Seventeen months ago, Cameron Bancroft sat in a room at the WACA Ground, flanked by the state's chief executive Christina Matthews, and conveyed his greatest disappointment about the Newlands ball tampering scandal in which he had been a pivotal figure.
"Through the last few days, sitting in my own company, the thing that breaks my heart the most is that I have given up my spot in the team for somebody else for free," he said. "People know that I've worked so hard to be able to get to this stage in my career, and to know that I have just given somebody an opportunity for free is devastating for me."
In the many recriminations and deliberations that followed the scandal, there was little doubt that Bancroft had the hardest road back to regaining a place in the Australian team. For while Steven Smith and David Warner were acknowledged as world class talents, Bancroft was a batsman still making his way, struggling as much as thriving in his first eight matches against England and South Africa. Countless others had the chance to bar Bancroft from returning through their own performance.
Yet Bancroft never lost sight of his goal - keeping his baggy green cap in full view at home in Perth, then carrying it with him to a county stint with Durham. Through runs there, and then by wearing numerous blows to the body in making the unbeaten 93 on a fiendish Southampton pitch, Bancroft convinced the selectors he was worthy of a return, foiling the likes of Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson, Peter Handscomb and Will Pucovski in the process. He's got his spot back, and has no intention of giving it away "for free" again.
"It's good motivation isn't it, to look at it and go 'yeah i'm playing cricket but there's something bigger I eventually want to be able to get back to'," Bancroft said of his cap. "I guess it was good motivation to keep working hard, keep training. yeah. whenever that happened, it was out of my control. it was just a bit of inspiration and motivation to keep my goals and keep focused.
"At home it's got its little spot that it sits in outside my bedroom. yeah I kept it there . It's something you're obviously very proud of it. it's a very prestigious item to have and you take good care of it because it means something to you. So that's kind of how I dealt with that and being able to see that is obviously really good to focus your goals and where you want to be going.
"Definitely times when I was challenged a lot. but like anything, you go through those moments the best you can. You learn a bit about what you need to do to keep moving forward, and just take it day by day really. If you ask me 18 months ago if I'd be sitting here, it was probably the last thing from my mind."
Ask Bancroft about Australian cricket culture since Newlands, and the response is instructive. He focuses not on fitting in around others, but on doing the right things in his own mind. Through the tribulations of the past year or so, including the loss of his contract with Durham for 2018, reinstated this year, Bancroft also learned to be somewhat less obsessive about the game. "One of the big lessons that I learnt last year was about being true to yourself," Bancroft said.
"There is no doubt that I wasn't as true to myself as I could have been at times. You learn from those mistakes that you make and you try and be better moving forward. At the end of the day, what you do and your actions is completely up to you. I made a mistake and I'll learn from it and move forward and get better.
"I think being serious about cricket is important but I think it's also about being able to realise the game is just a game of cricket. There's certainly other parts of your life that you can value, that are important too. I definitely connected with more of that last year and certainly opened up new avenues that I hadn't done before. They've brought a lot of enjoyment and happiness to my life, so for that it was a good experience and i'd like to think it's helped me enjoy cricket in a different way."
Those avenues included meditation and yoga, accompanied by running plenty of kilometres (about 35 a week) to maintain the fitness and strength that helped make Bancroft one of the most durable batsmen in the Australian system. All these things helped build resilience, not only to the ball hurled down at him, but the volleys of abuse he faced with Durham that will doubtless be multiplied during the heat of an Ashes series in England.
"Sure, there were times when people booed or what not, or ask you to sign pieces of sandpaper, stuff like that. But it doesn't faze me. I just get on with it," Bancroft said.
"It doesn't bother me too much. It is what it is. People will react how they want to react. Hopefully I can use it if people want to be like that, to give you energy to perform well. I can't control that. I guess the journey that I've been through over the last 18 months, you get exposed to things like that. I'll just deal with it and keep moving forward.
"I think how people want to feel about that and react, I guess, is really how they want to deal with that. For me it's just about playing good cricket. That's kind of where I'm at right now. That's definitely the thing that I can change and impact on moving forward, so that's certainly where my focus will be right now."
Dealing with a moving ball was something central to Bancroft's desire to return to Durham, and the lessons of the stint were writ large across his Southampton innings. Playing the ball late, judging the whereabouts of his off stump, leaning gently, head over the ball, into his drives, Bancroft combined physical toughness with the light touch required to avoid edges, pads and stumps being exposed to quality bowlers.
"I've worked on a lot of parts to my game, where my bat comes down, my back-foot play, how I move my feet, everything," Bancroft said. "You're just fine-tuning all those details to be a better cricketer. I've had a lot of time to be off the park and in the nets to do that and I guess each time you play is an opportunity to make that a part of your batting. That learning process is never ending and I'll keep working hard.
"Certainly up in Durham, dealing with sideways movement is part of batting up there. You don't always feel like you're 100% on top of the bowling or the game but you just do the best you can while feeling a little bit uncomfortable out there, not feeling in complete control. I think they were the conditions in Southampton and it was nice to be able to do that and I'm sure I learned a lot at Durham. There were times out there when i felt like 'I've seen this before, this is like batting at the Riverside a little bit. That's learning i guess.
"I'd certainly much rather get hit than get out at times, so yeah. It was just - there's certainly a bit of luck involved. No doubt about it on a pitch like that - and I had my fair share of luck, no doubt about it. You just stick to a game plan you think's going to be successful out there and as much as the ball was going up and down - frighteningly at times - the ball just nipping back and being able to attack your stumps, for me was far more dangerous than worrying about the ball was that bouncing a bit. But they're potentially conditions we could face at some point in the series and I guess you learn from the past and that helps you in the future."
As for his reunion with Smith and Warner, Bancroft agreed that all had taken paths that were lonely at times, on their way back to the national team, its pressures and rewards. "For all three of us, really, our journeys were all different," Bancroft said.
"We all fought battles that were very personal and very different. But I think understanding each other and what each other was going through was certainly something that happened. It's nice to be back in the side, it's nice to see Dave, it's nice to see all the boys, not just him. I guess as you connect closer together as a team, you build that good culture the Australian cricket team has been looking to improve."