James Lawton: Trott sets the standard with quest for perfection

For Australia, striking early has come to mean only the arrival of Jonathan Trott
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The Independent Online

Something extraordinary happened on the smooth surface of England's growing ascendancy in this Ashes series. You might call it Jonathan Trott's strange, even weird, day at the workbench.

Trott has created a key role for himself over the last few days. He is the enforcer of new levels of confidence in the English side, not only to play to the best of their potential but also to keep doing it, match in and out, and without any sliding back into the previously treacherous belief that winning is something of a right rather than an endlessly recurring battle.

Given that achievement, he yesterday gave us a convulsion in several instalments and if it didn't begin to represent a crisis, not with Alastair Cook's numbers getting more Bradmanesque with each new knock, and Kevin Pietersen once more resembling the world's most naturally gifted batsman, it still amounted to bizarre behaviour from someone who seems to re-make much of his game between deliveries.

He hardly had time to inflame the Australian bowlers and their supporters with his long and elaborate rituals at the batting crease before he was at the mercy of a shy at the wicket by Xavier Doherty. The throw missed but Trott still gave himself several stern lectures before facing the next ball.

Trott was also hard on himself when he was dropped twice, most grievously by the first day's batting hero, Mike Hussey. He was, however, left most aghast when rushed into a cramped hook which skied the ball into the leg side. Fortunately, most of it had been left vacant by an increasingly harassed Australian captain Ricky Ponting and the nearest man, Peter Siddle, had no chance of making the ground.

This didn't prevent another inquest from the profoundly introspective Trott. He looked long and hard at the sky, or perhaps it was to outer space, from where some believe he gets regular, and mostly, inspiring signals. Yesterday, though, Trott seemed somewhat off message, a suspicion confirmed when, with 78 against his name, he did something uncharacteristic.

He got himself out while in striking distance of a stunning third straight century in Ashes Tests. Naturally, he was indignant with himself after Michael Clarke had caught him off Ryan Harris and he was hardly consoled by the fact that he had drawn level with the great Herbert Sutcliffe in the all-time batting averages. This meant that only the Don, South Africa's dazzling Graeme Pollock and West Indian George Headley remained above him.

These are rather stunning facts, even if Trott has plenty of time for the pressures of the game to work away and erode the average which now stands at 60.73, but then no less so than the extent of the control England have established so quickly in their defence of the Ashes over the last week here and Brisbane.

Andrew Strauss appears to have the superior resources in all areas of the game and this made the signs of Trott's early vulnerability all the more surprising. In less than 18 months, and after opening his Test career with a century at the Oval climax to last year's Ashes series, Trott has not only marched to his astonishing mark in the history of batting. He has also become one of the fundamental reasons why Ponting's Australians seem to believe a bleak truth a little more with each new day.

Removing an opener with one of the first deliveries is one of the most exhilarating moments in the game. It is an early, potentially devastating strike. Unfortunately for this Australian team so desperate to prove that they can grow in the wake of such superb players as Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, striking early has come to mean only the arrival of Jonathan Trott.

Everything about him, his mannerisms, his mostly impeccable technique, his obsession with runs, is remorseless. We saw that back at The Oval the summer before last. The Australians sensed an advantage but Trott soon dismissed the possibility. It was the same at The Gabba last week when Strauss went, in another first over. Again, Trott steadied the English mood.

Despite yesterday's rare alarms, the contribution was again immense. He put down the rising hope of Doug Bollinger after the instant scalp of the England captain. Sometimes he hit the ball so well, so early, you could sense the body language of Australia become mute with the blow.

It was not Jonathan Trott's best day, by no means, but he was still immense. He is a cricketer of extraordinary commitment and he is already halfway to becoming the barometer of a winning team.