England's forgotten Ashes hero
Click here to listen to the full audio interview with Jonathan Trott
In South Africa, England's cricketers prepare to launch their Champions Trophy campaign, with a malfunctioning middle order topping their list of worries. But the man, believed by many, best placed to address that problem is instead plying his trade for Warwickshire in the closing stages of the county season.
Back in August, Jonathan Trott was the toast of English cricket after securing the Ashes with a brilliant debut century, at the culmination of a crazy week in which his credentials as an international cricketer were questioned before they had even been tested. Though he triumphed over the critics in unequivocal fashion, particularly those who had advocated a recall for the veteran Mark Ramprakash, England's one-day squads had already been selected, and aside from a brief and unglamorous trip to Belfast on the morning after the night before, that was the end of his international season.
"To be thrust into the limelight and then out of it again, it's quite surreal really what happened in those few days," Trott told Cricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "It was quite nice [leading into the game] because no one was even mentioning my name, so there was no real pressure on me. I'd been in the squad for [the fourth Test at] Headingley, and it's amazing how people get brushed aside and forgotten about. A couple of names get mentioned on Sky Sports and that becomes a hot topic. But I knew I was playing well, so if I got selected I knew I could go out and perform."
And perform he certainly did, following a first-innings 41 with a brilliant and decisive 119 that took the match and the series beyond Australia's reach. But despite his personal success, Trott's abiding snapshot of the game revolved around the events of the decisive final day. "It's unbelievable really, the way we were caught up in the emotion of the game. But the memories of that match, for me, were fielding at deep point and seeing [Andrew] Flintoff's run-out. I had a spectator's view basically, I was right on the boundary, and it was an amazing moment to run out Ricky Ponting. I had to blink twice before I'd actually seen what had happened."
There was little time for Trott or his England team-mates to savour the moment, however. Barely 24 hours after the Ashes had been won, the team was en route to Belfast for an ill-conceived ODI against Ireland, at a Stormont ground that had been underwater on the eve of the game. For Trott, belatedly drafted in as Andrew Flintoff's replacement, it was his ODI debut, and he marked it with a duck in an unimpressive three-run victory.
"That was quite strange, to go from The Oval in nice sunny sunshine, and go down to Dublin [sic] where it's been raining for three days, on a little club wicket, facing medium-pace bowlers with the new ball. It was quite tricky," said Trott. "But we managed to scrape a win in a 20-over game, so that's good, a win in your first game."
England didn't manage to win much else for the rest of the summer, however. Six straight thumpings followed at the hands of the Australians, before a consolation victory in the series finale at Chester-le-Street. And while the downtime did at least give Trott a chance to savour the Ashes victory in a way that most of his Oval team-mates could not, his competitive streak couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had he been given a chance to impress.
"Obviously hindsight is a good thing, but the selectors made up their minds and had to stick with that, and rightly so. But if you had been there you might have been able to change the course of what had happened. It's the same as being involved at Headingley [where England lost in three days]. I was so close to playing and the same sort of thing happened. But I'll try to make amends for what happened against Australia if I'm selected for the South Africa one-day squad, which would be great."
While his place in the one-day leg of England's winter tour is not quite a done deal, Trott is a certainty for selection in the Test side. But the prospect of returning to the country of his birth doesn't daunt him in the slightest, and in fact he sees his South African background as an advantage.
"I don't really see it as home, to be honest," he said. "Where I am now, in Birmingham, is home and it has been for seven years now. When I do go back to South Africa, to see a few friends or guys from school, it doesn't feel as it used to. The country is changing with the [football] World Cup around the corner, and every time I've been back in Cape Town, the city where I grew up, it seems to have changed again.
"The fact that I grew up there is something that will help me in understanding the country and the way it runs, and the people. Knowing all the grounds that the tour is played at, I see that as more of a positive than a negative."
Either way, Trott is a settled and secure cricketer these days, and ready for whatever comes his way this winter - readier, certainly, than he was two years ago when he made his England debut in a pair of Twenty20 matches against West Indies at The Oval and emerged with a grand total of 11 runs.
"I just think I know my game better," he said. "I'm a couple of years older, and playing county cricket gives you a lot of chances to work at your game. I've sat down with Ashley Giles, my coach at Warwickshire, and I've spent two winters away with the England Lions, which has been good for me. I know people say we play too much and ask whether Lions tours in the winter are as important as they used to be, with the amount of cricket we play internationally and domestically. But I looked at that as a stepping stone to catch the selectors' eye, and to make sure I was getting big runs whenever we went away."
He's also a more mature character these days, less prone to the bursts of temper that marked him out in his early years on the county circuit. "I think I was what I'd say a bit rough around the edges," he said. "I'm not saying as you get older you get wiser, but you get more relaxed and things don't tend to rile you as much as they used to, because you've seen a lot more. Being able to know how to control my emotions is something I've definitely learned, but when the occasion arises, I can still get stuck in. I've still got that."
For the moment Trott's focus is on the season finale with Warwickshire, where they have a shot at glory in the Pro40, and a chance to finish behind Durham in the County Championship. "It's nice to come back to what's got me playing for England," he said, "and I'm not taking that for granted. Warwickshire gave me the opportunity and I'm very grateful for that. I don't think I'm the finished product. There's always stuff to work on, and I'll be working very hard before the squads are announced. I don't try to think of situations, I just try to win the game. Being able to contribute is the most important thing."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo