Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.
It is a year to the week since Jonathan Trott made his Test debut in the Ashes decider at The Oval, and after a year of highs and lows that would have tested the mettle of any cricketer, he is back at the scene of his finest hour, and in arguably the most liberated frame of mind since that remarkable week last August.
Trott's travails have been among the most documented of any of the England squad in the past 12 months. The ice-cool character who compiled twin scores of 41 and 119 on debut against Australia gave way with alarming haste last winter to a fidgety imposter whose temperament appeared to buckle during a tough return to his native South Africa, in particular when his peculiar and time-consuming rituals at the crease were dragged into the media spotlight.
But despite regular jibes about the security of his role, Trott's value to the England team was in full evidence at Edgbaston last week when, in front of his home crowd, he compiled half-centuries in each innings to ensure that England did not squander the advantage that their bowlers had earned in bowling Pakistan out for 72 on the first morning. No other batsman came close to matching the calm authority that he brought to his game, and on the eve of his return to The Oval to face Pakistan, it feels as though his career has come full circle.
"The last time I sat here it was a lot fuller," Trott joked as he returned to the press briefing room in the Oval pavilion. "It's been a year full of memories, starting here. In that time I've been working really hard on my game to improve as a player and contribute to winning matches and series for England. I think I'm a better player now. It may be a cliché, but I feel I've learned a lot from my experiences, and there are things I probably do differently now, or take a different approach to."
Regardless of the mixed reception that Trott has received since his elevation to the Test side, there's no arguing with the numbers he has crunched in that time. In 11 Tests he has racked up 923 runs at 51.27, while contributing to eight victories - including six in a row since the tour of Bangladesh in March - and just a solitary defeat, in Johannesburg in January. The manner in which his confidence has grown has mirrored that of the team as a whole, and he credits the management pairing of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss for cultivating an atmosphere of inclusivity.
"Coming into a team is like getting a new job," said Trott. "You have to find your role in the team and the dressing room, and all of the background stuff is just as important as what you see on the pitch. But Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have a big emphasis on pulling the new players in and putting an arm around them. It's certainly not a feeling of being thrown in at the deep end and seeing if you can swim. It's put more positively. 'You can succeed at this level, you're good enough so go and take your chance'."
Leaving aside his brief and unsuccessful stint in the Twenty20 set-up in 2007, Trott's first taste of the England environment came ahead of the fourth Test at Headingley last summer, when he linked up with the squad amid concerns about Andrew Flintoff's fitness, but was eventually released before the match got underway. "I came down to have a drink with Andy and Straussy and I was made very welcome," he recalled. "It wasn't just a case of 'here's your room key, see you at practice'."
Missing that Headingley match turned out to be a blessing for Trott. England were routed by an innings inside three days, but instead of getting wrapped up in the post-mortem, he was able to save his energies for his remarkable rescue mission in the fifth and final Test. "I was fresh and excited, and champing at the bit to succeed and do well for the team," he said. "The other guys had been on an emotional rollercoaster and were so tired after the fifth game, so I had come in quite fresh and raring to go, so in hindsight that helped."
A feature of Trott's performance in that Oval Test was his purposeful footwork. He strode forward to the pacemen and spinners alike, and in so doing exuded a confidence that belied his debutant status. Some of that same authority was on display on a treacherous surface at Edgbaston last week, as Trott set himself to dominate where others remained diffident.
"Moving my feet well and in a positive manner expresses what I want to express, meaning good body language and good intent," said Trott. "I use the word intent a lot when I think about my batting, and when I'm at the crease I think 'is my intent right here, have I got my focus where I want it to be?' Intent to score runs is just as important as intent to leave and be defensive. Leaving the ball with minimal footwork is just as bad as playing and missing with minimal footwork."
Alastair Cook would doubtless relate to that sentiment, after another iffy display at Edgbaston took his summer tally to 100 runs in seven innings. His match ended when he was trapped on the crease by Mohammad Amir on the fourth and final morning, and though he boosted his morale by smacking a carefree 38 from 22 balls for Essex in the t20 semi-final on Saturday, his place in the team is unquestionably on the line.
Trott, however, offered his support and sympathy, after he himself had been forced to reaffirm his credentials following the tour of South Africa. "At the beginning of the Bangladesh series I was probably where he is now," said Trott. "It's only four Test matches since then, so it's amazing how things change. But whenever I see Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss at the crease I feel very secure, so I'm sure he'll be fine."