The sort of company Jonathan Trott is keeping is usually found in halls of fame or on Mount Olympus. His name has been spoken of lately in the same breath as Don Bradman, Herbert Sutcliffe, George Headley and probably Apollo and Hermes.
This, lest it be forgotten, is Jonathan Trott of Birmingham via Cape Town, a balding, bottom-handed, risk-free shoveller of a batsman who first played for England in a Test match less than two years ago – a century on debut in an Ashes Test against Australia – and is now churning out runs with the dull certainty of sausages coming from a factory machine.
Trott made another 203 of them in his only innings in the first Test at Cardiff, which England won in remarkable fashion on Monday evening, and after being man of the match there, he was last night named as the England cricketer of the year. It was a thoroughly deserved award for a player who is not immediately attractive but whose value to England is rapidly becoming immeasurable. He goes to Lord's for the second Test on Friday as England's most trustworthy batsman. Not the least part of that accolade is that others in the order, such as Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, are creating their own formidable credentials.
England announced their squad for the match yesterday, with Jade Dernbach the only change for the injured Jimmy Anderson. Named in a Test XII for the first time, after taking nine wickets for England Lions against Sri Lanka a fortnight ago, Dernbach is unlikely to play. But he has forced his way ahead of Ajmal Shahzad and may easily win a cap before the summer is done.
But back to Trott. From batting in the blue riband No 3 position in both Tests and one-day internationals, his figures in the former have come to border on the phenomenal. His innings in Cardiff was his 31st and he has now scored 1,803 runs at an average of 66.78, figures achieved only by legends of the game such as the aforementioned trio (scoring records for Apollo and Hermes have been lost).
In all, only six players have scored more runs at this stage in their career, with Sutcliffe the only Englishman. But Trott has also been England's most successful limited-overs batsman in the past year, and no player has scored as many as his 1,280 runs after 25 innings.
Trott appears to have shed all needless adornments in the pursuit of his objectives, save for his extravagant preparation in the middle. It is a measure of the change in attitude towards him that his insistence on scratching out the crease, wandering down the pitch and excavating some more before being ready to bat, was once seen as an absurdly irritating piece of gamesmanship and has become an endearing affectation. That apart, Trott lacks style.
He is workmanlike, his instinct is to play first to leg with the bottom, right hand dominant in the execution. He refuses to be hurried and nothing appears to dent his patience. It would be unfair to say there is nothing appealing about his batting and when he nails a cover drive properly it is often handsomely upright.
But he makes no pretence at being the great entertainer and it is partly the recognition of his limitations that has helped him adapt to international cricket so quickly. Though clearly tough-minded, Trott is more sensitive than he would like to concede.
After he made that Test century on debut, against the old enemy at The Oval in the 2009 Ashes, there was still an undercurrent of resentment towards Trott. Many took against the fact that he had been born and raised in South Africa and was using England as a flag of convenience.
He affected not to be hurt but the following winter he became introspective. Runs were hard to come by and much more worryingly he seemed vaguely detached from the rest of the team. Gradually, he overcame this. The runs have helped but it was what it took to score them, in terms of both mental and physical application, that has been exceptional. Perhaps too the birth of his first child has had a soothing effect on his single-minded determination.
It remains obligatory to criticise Trott's scoring rate. Perhaps the shuffling and the shovelling and the lack of flamboyance enhance the illusion of slow scoring. True, he is not fast, and when his second hundred at Cardiff was slower than the first it was slightly disconcerting. He seemed utterly unruffled but a little bit of intent here and a touch of aggression there would not have come amiss.
England's coach, Andy Flower, said yesterday: "Since he was introduced to the side, Trott has averaged above 60 and he has been a very solid man. I know he's been criticised for his strike rate in one-day cricket. I think in most cases that has been unfair.
"Certainly, I thought this was a superb innings by him – patient, efficient and he put the bad balls away – and he set the tone not only for this game, the series but, hopefully, batting for the summer. Any criticism of him in this instance is unfounded."
Trott's strike rate of 48 runs per hundred balls is well ahead of slow coaches of the past such as Geoff Boycott at 35, though that did not prevent Boycott berating Trott for selfishness during the first Test. Expectations have changed, of course, and Trott, as Flower averred, can sometimes seem off the pace in the limited-overs game. But then wickets have frequently been falling at the other end.
Perhaps he does need more strings to his one-day bow, but the fact that matters above all in his Test career is that all but one of his six hundreds have now been scored in winning causes. The one that was not was perhaps the most important of all, the 135 not out at Brisbane last winter which helped to secure the draw and to tilt the balance irrevocably England's way in the Ashes series.
There is one little irony about his studious pace. Trott may (or may not) be a distant relation of Albert Trott, who played Test cricket for both England and Australia. Albert Trott is the only man ever to have hit a ball over the pavilion at Lord's, Jonathan Trott has yet to hit a six in international cricket – but he is a merited and respected England cricketer of the year.
Hot to Trott
Jonathan Trott has now scored more runs (after 31 Test innings) than all bar one Englishman...
Most runs scored after 31 Test innings:
H Sutcliffe 1,927/68.82/7/9
J Trott 1,803/66.78/6/5
W Hammond 1,701/63/6/5
D Compton 1,662/66.48/7/7
J Hobbs 1,590/58.89/4/9
Trott is seventh on the international list:
D Bradman 2,948/105.29/3/4
M Hussey 1,934/80.58/7/8
H Sutcliffe 1,927/68.82/7/9
G Headley 1,907/68.11/9/3
A Morris 1,855/66.25/9/4
D Walters 1,833/67.89/6/10
J Trott 1,803/66.78/6/5
* Trott is also decried as a bit of a slow coach, but his strike rate also stands up to scrutiny. He is ahead of some surprising English names.
Strike rates (after minimum of 19 Tests):
24th G Gooch 49.28
29th A Stewart 48.63
30th J Trott 48.35
36th P Collingwood 46.44
38th T Greig 46.04
39th G Thorpe 45.90
41st R Smith 45.64Reuse content