Jonathan Trott, the former England batsman who's currently on tour with England Lions as batting coach, believes Test cricket is in good health. He also believes that playing the patient innings should not be going out of fashion anytime soon. In Wayanad for the four-dayer against India A, ESPNcricinfo caught up with him to talk long-format batting. Here's Trott on how the white-ball mindset affects young players, and the importance of getting the "basics" right.
You've been working with young batsmen here. A lot of them are free-flowing white-ball strokeplayers, naturally aggressive in their approach. Do you think that sort of approach will help their game in the long run in the longer format?
When I was growing up, it was all about the defence first. Nowadays these younger players play so much white-ball cricket apart from watching so much of it, because of how much it's available on television and highlight shows. But sometimes you need to practise the basics of defence just as much. I think it's a little bit of a role-reversal now. Our job as a coach is to remind them of the basics and help them work on the defence because at the younger age they seem to be more expansive. So I think as coaches, it's just as much our responsibility from the grassroots level to stress on the importance of defence.
So is the limited-overs mindset coming in the way of Test batting?
Not at all. These days you see guys being more positive against spin and that comes from playing a lot of one-day cricket where they explore different options on how to hit boundaries and where they can hit spinners. Yes, that's probably not the traditional way how you play Test cricket. But I think exploring your options of hitting the spinners is just as important as your defence against them - the basics. Especially in subcontinent conditions, it is important. As a Test batsman, it's crucial to have a balance between both of that.
Test cricket hasn't changed too much, actually, apart from becoming a bit high scoring. But again the scoring is pretty similar to what we saw in the 2000s when the Australian team were pushing the scoring rate up because they had such good players. I think the better players you have the more the scoring rate is. Test cricket is sort of a hard game to predict. Anybody can win on a certain day. If you look all around the world, you see a lot more results in Tests. But you're also seeing a lot more teams at home dominate now, which is what is changing a little bit. But then again you saw India winning in Australia and England against Sri Lanka, of course. I think Test cricket is very healthy and is indeed in a good state.
Everyone these days wants to be an all-format player, don't they?
Yes. Nowadays it's very rare that you get guys who play just one format of the game. They're always going to play T20s and 50-overs. That's also a case of not realising there's a huge opportunity for the longer format of the game as well. And that's also mostly because of the glitz and glamour of international leagues around the world. I still think people would say Test cricket is the pinnacle of international cricket. Yes, it's a lot tougher than 20 overs. It requires a lot of patience, determination and effort, that's why it's the ultimate. You ask anybody. Even Virat Kohli said that on the tour of England.
There are players like Sam Billings in the current Lions side who are, in general, perceived as white-ball players. For such batsmen, how does the transition to the longer format work? And how does it work for top-order batsmen?
In England, we first need to find the right balance in county cricket concerning the importance we put on four-day cricket. Now it's [also] being played around April and September [at the start and end of the English season], which [due to the conditions] is obviously not very helpful for batsmen, especially the ones sitting in the top three. The top three batters got to make it a habit to spend a lot more time at the crease, which would help them set up the innings and all of that. It's an art and a skill, so we need to get that right.
The likes of Sam Billings play more in the shorter format, where the game lasts for about four hours. In Tests, they're going to be batting for that much time. They might feel like they can bat for four hours in Tests and feel like the wickets are not doing much, because of which they're eventually going to get out to a delivery they can't play.
I think this is where we need to go back to the basics - to stay longer and practise your defence. It might also help the four-day games go on for four days instead of finishing in two days. It's about knowing when to hit and when to leave. That puts the confidence in your game in the longer format. And also when they're with the Lions side, they're playing the four-day format, and that's not a lot different from Test cricket. It's not that big a transition.
"This is where we need to go back to the basics - to stay longer and practise your defence. It might also help the four-day games go on for four days instead of finishing in two"
Isn't that sort of what happened in the first innings here in Wayanad? A number of England Lions batsmen were not able to convert starts...
Yes, it's a typical case of them not doing the basics well for longer. That's what Test cricket is about. It's about the ability to outplay the opposition or just the ability to grow amidst the grown, like batting a long period of time. Like what an Alastair Cook did and various other players did.
So what do you tell these batsmen? Do you look to incorporate anything from your style of Test batting?
Of course, but you can't teach them how to play. I just stress that they need to know their game when they get the chance. Imagine it's a high-pressure situation, you're highly scrutinised now more than ever. You've got to have just one game and be confident when you step out when you play for England. That's all I say.
I think as a coach you try not to push players or guide them into the way you've played. I think as a coach your responsibility is to work with the talent and technique they have. Of course, you want to work on them, help them develop, make them more consistent run-scorers. But as a coach I still stay on the basics of the game because that's what works when you're under pressure. I can't think of a superstar international batsman who doesn't do basics really well. I think the guys here can take a leaf out of Kohli or AB de Villiers' book. These are two extremely good players who do their basics extremely well.
Any of the players here who are likely to force the Ed Smith's selection panel to give them a thought?
All of these guys wouldn't be here if they weren't in the thoughts of the selectors already. It's then about those who excel here. And if they go back to England and excel there as well, with the Ashes and World Cup around the corner they would be making a strong case.
Some people here are going to get just one chance and they've got to make the most of it. Coming on tours like this to India are invaluable. This is the closest you can get to playing international cricket. A lot of them have had a taste of it, having played in front of big crowds, but this is what would get you to the Test level.
There are young players like Ollie Pope and Dom Bess touring with the Lions, players who've been left to work hard to find their way back into the Test team after being given a few chances...
It's a very different case with someone like Dom Bess who's a spin bowler but Ollie Pope is a very ambitious young guy who seems to have a bright future. But to make sure of that when he does get the opportunity at Test level, the first thing he should do is to be ready and then he has to look to become a permanent fixture. There's nothing better than batting in the top 4-5 in Tests for England, so that's what he wants to do by the looks of it. He's going about it in the right way.