Jonathan Trott is Still in the Game

Jonathan Trott proved that he still has a lot to offer England in international cricket by scoring 211* and 79* in consecutive innings for the Lions—he did score a duck in his most recent innings, however. While Gary Ballance has done a more than respectable job of replacing Trott at three in the Test side, Trott’s experience and versatility make him an ideal candidate to join the touring party to the West Indies as a back-up in case of injury.

Trott enjoyed a successful return to cricket in the 2014 county season, following the stress-related illness which cut short his tour of Australia last winter. He made three centuries in the County Championship, despite only playing in half of Warwickshire’s matches, with a respectable average of 47.69.

His greatest triumph came in the 50-over game, however, as he ended up scoring more runs than any other English player in the Royal London One-Day Cup, finishing second on the overall list to Glamorgan’s Jacques Rudolph. At the start of the summer, when Trott’s first attempt to stage a comeback was scuppered by a recurrence of his illness, even Trott’s staunchest supporters admitted that his England career was probably over. By the end of September, an international recall once again looked a genuine possibility.

However, England clearly felt that they didn’t need Trott in ODI cricket anymore, leaving him out of the 30-man World Cup shortlist. While he was selected to captain the England Lions first-class team, he wasn’t even a foot-soldier in the limited-overs squad. The decision didn’t raise as many eyebrows as it should have done.

Since Trott’s final ODI before his enforced break from cricket, England had tried eight different number threes, and none of them had been even passably successful: Eoin Morgan had the highest average with 31 (from one innings), and Bell, Moeen, Joe Root and Luke Wright all averaged under ten (James Taylor has since scored two fifties at three, but that was after Trott’s exclusion from the 30-man shortlist). No other England player has a better ODI average than Trott, and he showed his form in the One-Day Cup, and yet England didn’t want to know.

It is possible that the selectors have been influenced by the idea that Trott is a superfluous “stroker” rather than a “hitter” like Morgan, Stokes, Hales, or Roy. If it is the case that Trott is essentially different from them, so much the better: he offers the stability that England have lacked since he left. It is also important to note that Trott’s often-criticised strike-rate is higher than the collective strike-rates of those who have succeeded him at three. He also has a better strike-rate in ODIs than legendary Sri Lankan number three, Kumar Sangakkara, with a far superior average as well. New Zealand’s excellent first-drop batsman, Kane Williamson has a strike-rate only two runs per hundred balls higher than Trott, and he averages 39.51. Far from being a liability to England in the modern ODI landscape, Trott’s stats stack up with some of the very best in the business.

Another possible explanation for Trott’s World Cup snub might be doubts surrounding his mental readiness for an international return. Some have expressed doubts about how he would cope at a World Cup in Australia, where it all fell apart for him before. He has been cleared by the ECB’s medical staff, and is clearly managing his illness well enough to score runs for Warwickshire. The selectors have been told by the medical staff that Trott is fit for international cricket, and to ignore that assurance and still leave Trott out on medical grounds would be inexcusable on the part of the selection team, as it would constitute second-guessing the team’s doctors.

Whatever the explanation, England have moved on from Trott in ODIs. He’s nowhere near the T20 side, so what about Tests?

Michael Vaughan has suggested lately that Trott could open with Alastair Cook in the West Indies. This may have been an attempt to make amends for the absurd and vile attack he launched in The Telegraph last year, accusing Trott of feigning his stress-related illness as an excuse to cover his limitations as a player. The point, however, is a legitimate one: Sam Robson hasn’t cemented his place, and England could use another experienced head in their Test side.

I have already argued that England should stick with Robson for the moment, and I stand by that. Robson has a promising record in county cricket and deserves time to try and adapt his game to the Test arena. But of all the batsmen churning out runs in county cricket, none of them look more attractive as a reserve in case of injury than Trott.

His versatility will be an enormous bonus, being capable of batting anywhere in the top five. He could fill in for pretty much any injured batsman, or anyone who was struggling for form. Trott is an intelligent and determined cricketer whose experience would add value in the dressing room as well. The temptation to pick a younger man like James Vince or Alex Lees may prove too great for England to resist, but it would be a mistake in so many ways to move on from Trott completely. He should still be part of the ECB’s plans, because he will not let them down.

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