I’ve not been inside Jonathan Trott’s head for the last two days, but I bet he’s had more than one nightmare in that time. You know the nightmare. You mark your guard on a flat pitch, twice, face a whole host of dot balls, clip a few on midwicket till you get to 60 runs, and then suddenly realize you’re naked as the bowler comes in and you play a rash cover drive giving up a hundred.
To make Trott feel worse, he’s had Amla showing him exactly what he should have done. Make a big hundred and bat the opposition out of the game. There is a little Trott in Amla, but not as much Amla in Trott.
Trott is not an ugly batsman to watch; if Graeme Smith is a Morlock (and he is) when he bats, then Trott is an Ewok. But Amla is something far more fetching. He bats in a way that tests the sexuality of many cricket fans. Every back-foot push through the covers sent the Oval crowd in semi-orgasmic murmurs. And, like Trott, he can bat for days and days without seemingly being affected by the world around him.
On a flat pitch like this, getting out players like Cook, Smith, Trott or Amla requires a shovel and industrial sized black bags.
South Africa were poor on day one, and they were lucky Trott helped them. Aside from Swann, the England bowlers were worse on the third day than South Africa were on day one. They haven’t been helped, as the ball hasn’t swung or seamed much, or at all.
The England seamers were punished for all the times opposition teams have had to stand there mute as English batsmen ground to massive totals. Had you stumbled into the ground after emerging from a coma, you’d have laughed at anyone suggesting this was the best bowling attack on earth. They were waiting for mistakes, and they might have to wait a few days for all ten of them. Their lack of creativity was staggering, and they seemed to lose their ability to keep the pressure on.
When Broad had two short midwickets for Amla as he bounced him, it stuck out as perhaps England’s first radical plan in 100 overs of cricket. It didn’t work. I’m not sure how you get Amla out on a pitch like this, but neither are England. You could offer him cheesecake in the hope he’s lactose intolerant. Surely England have a coach for that?
The ordeal seemed to send Strauss crazy. He was running around like a five-year-old school girl and breaking his glasses at various times. And he had a smile of a chilling serial killer, rather than his usual determined blank look. England have been so used to steam rolling opponents with efficiency, that they never expected South Africa to bounce back up. But they did, with the second new ball, and now the bat.
It’s not Trott’s fault. Many English players have been below par so far in this game. But I bet as Trott jogs from fine leg to fine leg, he’s thinking of how much he’d prefer to be the person boring and blunting the bowlers, and not just watching it. It’s what he does well, but over the last two days, it’s what Amla does better.