When you launch your Test career with a century you set a pretty lofty standard.
When you mark your debut with not just any old century but a match-turning, Ashes-clinching ton, you’ve set the bar unfeasibly high.
That is what Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott did at The Oval last August when England, humiliated by Australia in the fourth Test at Headingley, turned to him to shore up a top-order splintered by Ravi Bopara’s collapse in form.
Trott was pitched into the team for the Ashes decider.
His selection was, depending upon your point of view (and everybody had one) a logical consequence of his heavy scoring for the Bears or a desperate move by a selection panel gambling recklessly on a rookie in a momentous game.
We all know what came next. Trott looked utterly composed on his way to a first-innings 41 which ended with a freak run-out.
In the second dig he scored 119 to set up England’s victory.
The 28-year-old looked at home from ball one. In the most highly-charged atmosphere, he barely played a false shot.
Test cricket? Piece of cake.
Trott was lauded to the skies. Everybody wanted a piece of him. England not only reclaimed the Ashes but had discovered a cast-iron top-order performer to boot. Pats on backs all round.
At such times it’s churlish to find a negative, even a tongue-in-cheek one. But there is one palpable drawback with starting in such glorious fashion: How do you follow that?
Consider Joseph Heller who produced the magnificent Catch 22 for his debut novel and spent the rest of his career having all his subsequent work compared unfavourably to it. Trott’s first opportunity to “follow that” arrived in South Africa this winter.
In a four-Test series he started well, with 28 and 69 at Centurion, then petered away with 18, 20 and 42 before managing just five and eight in England’s drubbing in the final Test at Johannesburg.
Immediately, some wise men in the media expressed doubts.
But Trott has no doubts.
He averages 38.88 after five Tests and 49.33 after four ODIs. And he has his expectations in perspective even if one or two scribes got carried away.
“I have spoken to several former players,” Trott said, “and they said ‘you started too well because you set the standard and people will expect the same every time, even on a green wicket.’
“I always push myself hard but have to be realistic. In South Africa I got a few good deliveries. For me, accepting they were good deliveries is not enough. It’s always a case of ‘Could I have played them better?’ But at that level sometimes you have to accept you got a great delivery. It’s weighing up when to be hard on yourself and when not to.
“I’m very happy with the way things have gone. At the start of my Test career if you had offered me these stats I would have snatched your hand off.
“But batting at three in Test cricket is new to me. Batting four or five you get shielded a little bit but three is different. It’s very challenging but also exciting. There are lots of rewards for getting past 30or 40 overs and then being able to build.
“It’s impossible to be at the top of your game all of the time. It’s a question of how things go for you and as long as I keep working as hard as I can, as I have over the years for Warwickshire, hopefully there will be plenty of times when it comes off for me like at The Oval.
“I have spoken to Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan and they told me their careers had lots of ups and downs.
‘‘A few years ago Andrew Strauss didn’t think he would even be playing for England any more. Now he’s captain.
“You have off-days as an individual, as you do as a team which happened in the last Test at the Wanderers.
But I think that match was good for me. It was a real wake-up call as to how difficult Test cricket is.”
Trott has faced up impressively to all the challenges so far.
And that includes some extra attention during the Tests when his slow method of preparation for facing each ball irked the South Africans.
They grumbled. So Trott might take it even slower next time.
“I enjoyed the stick,” he said. “They got a bit irate about how much time I take but I’ve taken that time all through my career.
‘‘To me it was nothing. They were getting wound up over nothing so I just carried on doing what I’ve always done. It doesn’t bother me what people are saying. It just spurs me on to be more annoying and dig in more at the crease.
“It’s something you just put to the back of your mind, with the crowd getting on your back. It’s actually quite fun.
“I did okay in the first Test but then I think I was a bit guilty of having unrealistic expectations after the way I started.
‘‘I need to be realistic and not put too much pressure on myself because of the start I had.
‘‘It won’t always be like that but it’s a fantastic challenge. Batting at Centurion trying to save a Test match gave me a buzz I can’t describe.”