Haven't we been here before? The last time a precociously talented South African-born batsman was granted an audience at The Oval in a decisive Ashes Test, it all worked out perfectly in the end for the home side. Perhaps England's selectors are hoping the Kevin Pietersen-effect will be passed on to his compatriot, Jonathan Trott, who was confirmed as Ravi Bopara's replacement for the series finale yesterday.
Four years ago, Pietersen sealed his super-stardom with a stunning maiden Test century in the final game in south London. The stakes were no higher in 2005 than they are this week, although England did start in the appreciably stronger position of being able to settle for a draw rather than having to force a win to reclaim the Ashes. When England went on to lose their grip on the urn two years later following an Ashes whitewash in Australia, their batting king-pin was one of the few players to emerge in credit. David Lloyd, the former England opener turned commentator, said in the aftermath of that drubbing: "Give me 11 Kevin Pietersens".
Now they cannot even muster one, given his absence as a result of surgery to correct his Achilles tendinitis. The sidelining of Pietersen has caused chaos in the England middle-order, which prompted a five-hour debate over the make-up of the side in a selection meeting at Trent Bridge last week. They have opted for a Cape Town-born batsman whose only international experience so far - barring two low-profile Twenty20 matches for his adopted country - was playing for South Africa in an Under 19 World Cup.
The fanfare surrounding Trott's rise in the game has been muted when set against that of Pietersen, yet his numbers are no less impressive. This season, he has a first-class average of 80.46 with four centuries, and he is confident of success against the Australians. "I'm chuffed as hell really," Trott, 28, said on UK radio after his elevation was announced yesterday. "I've been playing pretty well this season so I hope I can play well this week.
"I'm pretty much going to try and stay as relaxed as possible. I'd like to think that, under pressure, I perform - we will see this week." England overlooked the burgeoning talents to Adil Rashid, the young Yorkshire leg-spinner who took five wickets as well as scoring a hundred in the most recent round of county championship matches. The Oval is expected to favour spin, and national selector Geoff Miller bolstered the slow bowling ranks by recalling the left-armer Monty Panesar, who has been wicket-shy of late, to the squad.
Australian batsman Mike Hussey trained his guns at Trott, warning him that the step-up in class that he faces at The Oval on Thursday will be like nothing he has experienced before in his career. "Everyone feels pressure in Test match cricket, no matter whether you've been playing for 10 years or two games," the left-hander said on the sidelines of the tourists' two-day side game against the England Lions on Saturday.
"Particularly in an Ashes series, and coming into a very, very important fifth Test. He'll certainly know all about it if he makes his Test debut in that game." The Lions were on 214 for seven after 72 overs yesterday chasing Australia's 340 for nine declared, with Jamie Dalrymple out for 58. firstname.lastname@example.org