Chief Cricket Writer George Dobell finds Jim Troughton looking to prove a point..
The 2004 season was a trying time for Jim Troughton. While his Warwickshire team-mates gorged on runs, Troughton watched on, like the shy one at the orgy, struggling with form and confidence and finally taking his leave of first team cricket.
Eight batsmen averaged over 40 runs per innings last year for County champions Warwickshire and six more than 50. Such abundance cast Troughton's own travails into an unflattering contrast.
He managed nearly 600 runs at an average of 34.52 which, in different circumstances, would be respectable enough. But by comparison to his prolific fellows, it was a meagre return.
Yet scratch beneath the surface of the statistics and you find a season of quiet achievement. Troughton compiled his first century since the watershed of his England call-up (in June-July 2003) and emerged as a decent left-arm spinner.
More importantly, he continued to work on his refined technique and familiarised himself with it in match conditions. He will surely build on the foundations laid in those difficult days.
If 2004 is remembered as Troughton's annus horribilis, 2005 may well be the season of his re-emergence.
He still has a career average in excess of 42.5 - only Nick Knight and Ian Bell can better that in the Warwickshire squad - and those who witnessed the three flamboyant centuries he scored in the early part of 2003 will never accept he is anything other than a very fine player.
Certainly Troughton himself feels that the setbacks of the last 18 months will only make him stronger in the long term.
"When I came into the side I was young and it was only in place of someone who was injured," said the 26-year-old. "I had nothing to lose and just went for it. There was no fear of failure.
"Things were more complicated last year. I'd played a full season the year before and bowlers around the circuit had had a chance to work me out a bit. I didn't feel my place was secure, so I didn't have the confidence I may have had in the past.
"Sometimes I missed out in the first innings of games, then didn't bat again. So I was going long periods without batting out in the middle and that compounded things.
"I was thinking too much. Batting is about cutting out all irrelevant thoughts, and I was thinking about plenty of irrelevant things last season.
"But I still feel that I played more innings to be proud of last season than I had in any season before.
"I feel I played straighter and I was tighter around my off-stump. But I only made those technical changes to my game just over a year ago, so they were still bedding in last season. I was conscious of trying to bat a certain way, while now it's natural and I feel comfortable with it.
"I feel I was a better batsman last year than I was when I made over 1,000 runs in the 2002 season, but I didn't quite have the scores to show for it.
"It's not that I lacked confidence, not at all. It's just that I knew I was under a bit of pressure to perform all the time. Perhaps some supporters thought I was less confident because I was playing fewer shots. Last year I was still finding the balance between playing tighter and playing confidently. It's quite a hard to thing to marry-up."
In many county sides Troughton would still be an automatic choice. Several clubs - notably Sussex - are said to have been watching his fortunes with interest. So has he thought about moving to a club where first team cricket is practically guaranteed?
"I suppose it's true that there are batting line-ups where there is less competition for places," he said without any enthusiasm.
"In an ideal world it would be nice to hear that my place is secure all summer, but at the same time I can see why it's good for the side to have competition for places.
"Besides Warwickshire's been my club forever and I don't want to play anywhere else. I have another two years on my contract here and my aim is to secure a place in the side in both forms of cricket, score over 1,000 runs in the season, preferably batting at number five, and play a part with the ball."
History may record that Troughton's downturn came as a direct result of his England experience. Certainly it was a baffling selection. It's not that he wasn't worthy of international recognition, far from it, but when called up he was averaging under four in the one-day league and over 80 in the County Championship.
He was perfectly ripe for Test cricket, but far from ready for one-day promotion.
Yet he insists now that the experience will turn out to be the making of him. Brave words or honest reflection?
"The aftermath of the England experience was difficult," he said. "It wasn't just dealing with the disappointment of things not going as well as I might have hoped, but because I was flooded with advice.
"It was all well meaning and some of it was probably very useful, but it was hard to take it in and it left me not quite knowing what to do next. I felt pulled in different directions. It was probably a bit confusing.
"But in the long-term it was still a very positive experience. Not only did I play for England, but I was able to see that my technique needed some minor changes at a young age. I'm glad it happened then. It gives me the bulk of my career to play with an improved technique. What if that had happened when I was 30?
"Besides, people may say I'm a bit loose around the offstump, but they don't always appreciate how many runs I score in the same area.
"If I'm out twice in a season, but have scored 400 runs through the off-side, then is that a problem? I'd be pretty happy with an average of 200."
There was less positive about his one-day form last year. He averaged just 14.85, with a top score of 36, and found himself struggling to win a place in the side.
It was all a far cry from the call-up to the England team barely 12 months previously, when he was seen as a prime candidate for the 2007 World Cup.
"I didn't feel I had a settled place in the batting order," said Troughton. "It takes time to adapt to each position in one-day cricket; it affects how you have to pace your innings and what sort of shots are appropriate.
"I was sometimes coming in at seven, eight or nine and those are hard places to bat in one-day cricket. I'd definitely prefer to have a more fixed position."
Troughton spent the entire winter in Perth, playing league cricket and meeting up with Warwickshire director of coaching John Inverarity and the five young bowlers
"It was ideal," he said. "There was plenty of time to train and to net and we played every Saturday. It went pretty well; I scored three centuries and feel very happy with my game."
He also took the opportunity to work with John Traicos, the former South Africa and Zimbabwe off-spinner, on his left-arm spin bowling.
Troughton's emergence as a reliable bowler was one of the pluses of his summer. Although he only took three Championship wickets, he
conceded fewer than three an over and allowed captain, Nick Knight, to retain control in the field on days when more established were struggling. It was a valuable contribution.
"Last year went pretty well with the ball," Troughton said. "I was happy with my accuracy, but I also wanted to add something. I'm never going to be a huge spinner of the ball, but John - who was the best spin-bowling coach I've worked with - helped me get a bit more flight and I'm sure I'll be a better bowler this season."
Troughton was chosen to represent Warwickshire recently at Lozells Primary School as part of the club's admirable policy of encouraging cricket at grass roots level.
The sheer enthusiasm and energy of the children could have been overwhelming but, in partnership with Mark Evenson of the Warwickshire Cricket Board, Troughton smoothly showed-off the Championship trophy and left a very positive impression of Warwickshire in an area which has, historically, perceived that the club wasn't as inclusive as it might be.
It's another indication of his growing maturity and status within the club that he was chosen for such a task and another sign of his increased all- round confidence.
"I remember Sir Steve Redgrave talking to us at the start of last season," he said.
"He said that after they won an Olympic gold, he knew that he had to improve physically, mentally and technically before the next Games. If they had just maintained their performance he reckoned they would be fourth in the next Olympics; that's the level of improvement in sport.
"Nick Knight is like that. He's always urging us to take our game to the next level; to push ourselves further.
"He instils a feeling that we should never be satisfied. Certainly we're going to be fitter this season than ever before and I'm sure that I'm a better player now than I ever have been."