Saturday, 2 May 2015

Contrasting fortunes

Saturday, 2 May 2015
100 is an arbitrary landmark. The jump from 99 to 100 should mean so little, when really it means so much. The numbers that go down in a player's records don't represent the true value of the runs - a worthy 30 to help save a match not noted among a third century in an innings when the team is already well ahead. Alastair Cook was already showing signs of his return to form, with yesterday was his sixth score over fifty in his past nine test innings - another arbitrary landmark, but one showing he was getting stuck in and doing his job as opener. But it was yesterday, nearly two years to the day since his last three figure score, that the weight could finally be lifted off his back. The psychological phantom of that jump to three figures stalks him no more.

England certainly needed the runs, finding themselves falling to 38/3 within the opening session. Over the past year, when we've seen such a score, it's often been expected that Cook would be one of those to fall, but that wasn't the case today. There have been signs it has been coming, and today the reward finally came. A captain's innings, 105 runs out of an underwhelming team score of 240/7. A dismissal in the final over of the day took the gloss off a bit, not able to go on to make it a 'daddy hundred', but they were still hugely valuable runs for the team's total on what was really the West Indies' day. And a hurdle was overcome. Cook did get his support, particularly from Moeen Ali's 58 in a 98 run partnership (also a timely return to runs in this format for Ali, his first score over 50 since his century against Sri Lanka last year). Regardless, it was Cook's century that would undoubtedly make the headlines.

Both Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott made centuries on their test debuts, instantly making their marks on the international game. But while Cook's innings perhaps signalled the start of his rejuvenation, Trott's third duck in five innings seemed to mark an end. Another struggle against the short ball, something opponents will always exploit. Sometimes an innings has an air of finality about it - it was a similar feeling as Matt Prior was dismissed by Sharma at Lord's last summer. It remains to be seen who England's opener will be as they face New Zealand later this month, but there's a feeling that Trott's international career may have come to the end. As much as many of us, including myself, have been calling for Lyth's inclusion in the team - nobody wanted it to end like this for Trott.

Trott is a man who has always just got on with his job in the team, his idiosyncrasies sometimes attracting more attention than his actual runs, often attracting an undue share of criticism from the media (perhaps partly due to his South African background) whilst gaining the love of the fans with the affectionate hashtag #trottsfault. It was hoped that his comeback would see him reborn on the international stage, return to the player he was during England's rise to the top. Unfortunately, not all stories can have that happy ending, and it's a sad end for one of England's most understated heroes.

Cricket though goes on, and even Trott will have one final innings to redeem his legacy. The first day certainly belonged to the West Indies, and it could have been even better. Over half the overs were bowled by spinners, and the decision to go to spin was perhaps made too soon in the first session - at least when a side is 38-3 you wouldn't think Marlon Samuels would be the immediate option. But it's a minor criticism really on the face of a successful day. With Jos Buttler at the crease, and the more than capable Chris Jordan, England will hope to take the score at least past 300 on day two.

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