Jonathan Trott arrived home yesterday. Or rather he came back to Cape Town, the place where he was born, raised, learned how to play cricket well enough to represent South Africa Under-19s and recognised that he might be talented enough to become a professional. But it is no longer home. Birmingham, England, is home.
"The last few times I have been here I couldn't wait to get back to England," he said yesterday. "A lot of people have asked if I'd come back here when I retire, but there's no way. I am very happy in Birmingham. Coming back here is a holiday now."
Cape Town: temperate, by the sea, Table Mountain forming a sensational backdrop at every turn, still opulent for the middle class of any colour, if not for the dirt poor blacks. But it's Birmingham for Trotty.
Not that this is a holiday. Trott is here to work as England's new one-day opening batsman. He has hit the turf running as an international cricketer. There was the century on his Test debut at The Oval in the match that decided the Ashes last August. There was 51 in the second Twenty20 match on this tour and on Sunday at Centurion in only his second one-day international, having been invited to open, he made a thoroughly composed 87 as England won by seven wickets and took a 1-0 lead in the one-day series against South Africa.
He has devoted himself to England hook, line and sinker. He has married an English rose, Abi Dollery, granddaughter of Tom Dollery, himself a Warwickshire captain and England cricketer. There is no mistaking his fondness for Warwickshire, the county which gave him his chance, and one day it is possible to think that the unmistakable Cape Town twang will be softened by being intermingled with the honeyed tones of the Brummie, if such a thing is possible.
But there remains perplexity. Perhaps it is not his fault, perhaps he is entitled to ply his trade wherever he thinks fit and perhaps, growing up in Cape Town where he used to spend weekends at the lovely Newlands cricket ground, he thought of nothing else but representing the old country.
There is something vaguely dissatisfying, however, about an England batting order in which three of the top five effectively learnt to play in another country: Trott and Kevin Pietersen in South Africa, Eoin Morgan in Ireland. In the case of Morgan, he probably had nowhere else to go if he was to fulfil his unquestionably inimitable talent as a batsman. But Pietersen and Trott chose to leave, assisted by having one parent who had been born in Britain.
It is impossible to suggest that any of them is unworthy of their place. Trott, like Pietersen before him, served his qualifying period. But in his mannerisms and his approach to the game he is to all intents South African. Maybe it should not matter, but in professional sport between countries, it does. Nor does it exactly speak volumes for the products of the English system if they are deemed not good enough for selection in the face of this competition from outside.
Trott is not a player in classical style but he has fashioned an effective method based on a robust defence and vigilant concentration. He seems able to rise above any scepticism from outside and the England squad has been impressive in closing ranks. To a man, they refuse to engage in the wider issue and toe the line that if good old Trotty is scoring runs for England then that's fine and dandy. Five years ago when Pietersen his forerunner was cutting a swathe before him the crowds were uniformly hostile. It was difficult to tell if they similarly loathed Trott's defection at Centurion on Sunday because they were still on Pietersen's back, though the villainy now might have become of the pantomime variety.
"I can't really control the public," said Trott. "All I can do is put in good performances and gain the respect of my team-mates, the South African public and the English public. I don't put energy into stuff I can't control. It doesn't affect the way you bat. If you let it get to you it will."
His presence has affected others. When it was reported that he had lunch with a South Africa fast bowler, Dale Steyn, a former team-mate at Warwickshire, it persuaded the opposition coach, Mickey Arthur, to say that relations between the teams were becoming too friendly.
Trott is looking forward to playing at Newlands on Friday in the third one-dayer. He has told friends that he must control his emotions and put the external factors to one side. But his school is 500 yards away, it was where it all started. If there is not a lump in his throat, Birmingham has a lot to answer for.
Flag of convenience? England's incomers
*Jonathan Trott Played in the Under-15 and Under-19 World Cups for South Africa.
*Kevin Pietersen Played for Kwazulu Natal, but a frustration with the quota system saw him pursue his ambitions in England.
*Eoin Morgan Born and raised in Ireland, the Dubliner represented his home nation at the 2007 World Cup.