Middlesex 452 (Robson 231, Patel 4-80) and 76-2 lead Warwickshire 468 (Trott 219*, Murtagh 3-68, Finn 3-110) by 60 runs
Jonathan Trott revived memories of when he was indispensible to England © Getty Images
For a few hours, as Jonathan Trott brought calm to the chaos at Lord’s, it could have been 2010.
That was the year that Trott followed a career-changing innings of 226 against Bangladesh here with an innings of 184 against Pakistan. On each occasion, without fuss or extravagance, Trott subdued a threatening attack and made batting look as if it were the most natural pastime in the world. He was the eye of the storm.
The intervening years have not always been kind. A combination of mental exhaustion and situational anxiety eroded “England’s rock” – as both Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen have described Trott; and those two don’t always agree on everything, you know – and brought to a premature end an international career that briefly flirted with greatness.
He had memories of having played a key role in a side that went to the top of the world rankings to console him – and the ICC’s international player of the year award for 2011 – but the ending and the stigma that went with it brought a sour taste to a career that deserved better.
For a while it seemed those demons would defeat him. Struggling for motivation and equilibrium following an ill-fated return to Test cricket 12-months ago, he pondered retirement throughout the 2015 season and ended it without a century and averaging just 25.05. There were whispers around the club that, should he struggle over the first few games of this season, Laurie Evans would replace him in the side.
But here, with his side in trouble and against one of England’s most hostile fast bowlers, he produced an innings that was both masterful and fluent and evoked memories of a time when you could set your watch by his reliability.
As the sun came out on Tuesday afternoon and Middlesex turned to two part-time spinners and a gentle seamer in an attempt to improve a flagging over rate (they were minus four at one stage) batting became a relatively straightforward business.
It will be noted that there have already been four Championship double-centuries this season; there have never been so many before the end of April. Perhaps the tinkering made to the regulations designed to improve pitches has produced the desired results.
But such luxury has to be earned. And Trott, by seeing off Steven Finn at his most hostile on Monday night and by demonstrating a strong defensive technique, earned it for sure. He also earned his side, at one stage teetering on 173 for 6 and facing the prospect of the follow-on, full batting bonus points and an outside chance of pushing for victory.
And he did it – or most of it – in one of the new-style, ECB approved batting helmets. With the ECB alerted to his use of the non-compliant one on the previous day – and in the previous match in Southampton – they contacted Warwickshire overnight and insisted that Trott adopt the new one. So, when he resumed on 62 on Tuesday morning, it was – for the first time – in the new design.
If there was any visual disturbance, it was not obvious. He began the day with a series of flowing cover drives and then produced some sublime straight drives – a sure sign that his game is in top order – as it appeared as if he were batting on a different surface to his colleagues. While Tim Ambrose and Rikki Clarke were undone by deliveries that appeared to keep low, Trott produced those familiar clips through the leg side and pulled with assurance. It’s been a long time since he has batted with such class.
Keith Barker was a beneficiary of Trott’s groundwork. After surviving a testing first half-hour or so, Barker was able to capitalise against some modest support bowling that surrendered Middlesex’s dominance to a degree that they will surely look back upon with regret. By the time he played across a straight one, a weary attack was unable to stem the tide. The vision of Warwickshire’s No. 11, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, pulling Finn for six in front of square is not one the fast bowler will want to savour.
It was noticeable that, as Trott’s innings progressed and his calm deepened, his movement at the crease became less pronounced. He still tends to walk at bowlers as a trigger movement these days, but this was an increasingly assured performance and will surely provide confidence for the rest of the season.
He had broken Middlesex long before he reached the fifth double-century of his first-class career and his first in the Championship since 2005. This chanceless innings was his highest for Warwickshire.
The mischievous might suggest that, such was his gratitude towards his new headgear, he kissed it upon reaching the landmark. The more honest version is that he was kissing the Warwickshire badge on the helmet. It will have pleased him enormously to have contributed to the team’s success.
“The new helmets fit slightly differently on your head, so it’s about fit and vision,” he said afterwards. “But I don’t have a problem with the new rules. As a kid you get used to using a certain type and you become attached to it, but it’s fine. It didn’t feel that different.”
Middlesex, with a first innings deficit of 16, were soon two down in their second innings. Barker’s swing accounted for both left-handers – he is a desperately tough proposition for them – but with Sam Robson and Nick Compton as proficient as most at seeing off the new ball, Middlesex made it to stumps without further loss.
A victory for either side remains possible, but Middlesex may reflect their best chance has gone. Their team selection – without a frontline spinner – renders over-rate issues inevitable and will see a repeat of the session where part-time bowlers release the pressure on batsmen in their attempt to avoid penalties.
Perhaps Trott’s success will be celebrated beyond the confines of Warwickshire. While his England days are clearly over – he has no appetite for a return – nobody would begrudge a key figure in one of the best England teams in living memory finishing his career with the sun on his back and a smile on his face. This was a vintage performance.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo