Sportsmen react differently to failure. The apparent removal of abilities so powerful in their potential is ego-shattering. They are abilities that almost feel sacrosanct and righteous to the sportsman. For those powers to suddenly disappear is for the athlete to lose a part of himself.
In 2002, on Jonathan Trott’s second XI debut for Warwickshire, he smashed his bat violently and aggressively in the pavilion after getting out for 245. It was only a minor incident, but it was an augur of things to come; Trott’s reaction to failure is not one of introversion, it is one of expressive extroversion.
At the Gabba on Saturday, Jonathan Trott looked lost. His poor-form has been continuing for some time now, but more so than the lack of runs—everyone has bad patches—is the manner of them.
His innings today was the antithesis of the traits in which he built his career and name upon in the last couple of years. It was almost as if he was a ticking time bomb, his explosion a matter of when not if.
Even his first ball, a sweetly timed flick through mid-wicket for three was alarming. It was too flamboyant and expressive for the match situation—just half an hour to the close of play—and indeed too ebullient for the normally undemonstrative Trott. Tick tock, tick tock.
His second ball was even worse, dug in short by Mitchell Johnson—the battleground for the wicket of Trott since July—England's No.3 latched upon and aggressively swivel pulled down to fine leg for four. Tick. Tock.
The next ball, identical, was attacked again by Trott, making it three aggressive shots in as many balls, but this time he couldn’t make a connection and an over-excitable appeal for a caught behind off the glove followed. Trott swished agitatedly at the air, and chastised himself loudly. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Three defended dot balls followed. A return, you sensed reluctantly, to normality. The final ball of the over was short yet again, and Trott launched his body at the ball with total disrespect for the match situation and pulled hard. The ball flew off the top edge and landed in between two converging Australian fielders. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
He then had some time at the non-strikers end, where he stood looking flustered and panicked, chewing ferociously on a piece of gum. He turned a single off his legs for one off Ryan Harris. Then again, he was on strike to Johnson. Tick. Tock.
The ball was predictably short, and by this time Trott’s bizarre and irresponsible reply was predictable too. Another attempted pull shot, another mistimed effort—the ball hit the bat rather than the other way round—and it lobbed, almost too perfectly straight into the hands of the the unmoved deep square-leg fielder.
There was his explosion. It wasn’t even as if it was an aberration. The stupidity of his innings suggested such a decline. It was preordained. It was as if Trott was always going to get out like that, and nothing was going to change that fact.
Trott’s reaction would be described by a psychologist as ‘fight’ over ‘flight’. The batsman’s subconscious engenders his response to pressure and trouble as aggressive and passionate, not shy and timid.
Of the England batsmen in poor form, while there are those with worse statistics, none are as concerning as Trott—whose mental and technical capitulations are so stark you wonder whether he will ever recover from them.
Trott has been found out. He has a clear and definite weakness to the fast short-ball; not exactly something to be ashamed of, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
"Our bowlers are bowling fast at the moment, England are on the back foot and it does look like they've got scared eyes," David Warner said at the close of play press conference. "The way Trotty got out today was pretty poor and pretty weak, obviously there's a weakness there at the moment and we're probably on top of it."
Yet more pertinently one senses are Trott’s mental struggles.
Trott’s international career has been founded on unwavering powers of concentration and the creation of a bubble-like zone around him when batting.
But never has such intense focus appeared so absent than in recent weeks, and once outside of this bubble, technical trouble or no technical trouble, his judgement is clouded—he doesn’t feel at ease or comfortable at the crease and he acts accordingly.
Therein lies the problem. His technical struggles have been established and then perpetuated panic—slowly breaking down the zone of focus he has taken so long to establish and envelop himself in.
His path to recovery is thus one of mental balance. Trott needs to surrender himself to his mind. If you take away his remarkable powers of concentration and diligent application then you lose Trott. The clock is ticking on his selection in the side. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.