At 30 years of age, Sarah Taylor had achieved it all – topped the rankings in limited-overs cricket, made Dhoni-esque stumpings, scored substantial amount of runs to be regarded as one of women’s cricket’s greatest assets. Yet, when another bout of mental illness struck, she had no place to go. A career that could have been a lot more ended prematurely.
Two days before Taylor announced her sudden retirement, we also saw Marcus Trescothick bow out of domestic cricket after 26 years of excellence for Somerset. The former England opener is another victim of the mental illness that has affected so many England players – and the first one to come out in the open and speak about it – and had his International career curtailed at the very same age as Taylor.
We cannot look back at his career without a smidget of regret.
A CAREER THAT THREATENED TO BLOSSOM
That his father played for Somerset’s second XI and was a diligent fan of the game helped Trescothick’s path to cricket immensely. His birth was announced in a local newspaper with his father quoting that “he will have every encouragement to become a cricketer when he grows up”.
He shone at school level and played under-14 cricket for England alongside Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood. By 15, he was amassing runs for fun and made it to the Somerset under-19 team. His fitness was a concern given the kind of junk food he consumed. The latter even earned him a nickname – “Banger” – but none of that stopped Trescothick from scoring runs.
In his first full season for the county in 1994, Trescothick smashed close to 1000 runs. By 1995, he was captaining the England under-19 team and his tally of 1032 runs for them to-date remains among the top two.
Even when there were criticisms about his lack of feet movement, Trescothick covered them all up with runs. By 2000, he was called up to the national team following an injury to Nick Knight. He began with a 79 on ODI debut and ended the series (a tri-series involving Zimbabwe and West Indies) with 288 runs at an average of 48. This made way for a Test debut later that year and he showed equally good promise in his debut series in the longer format.
Even when he was the second highest run-scorer in England’s 1-4 Ashes loss in 2001, it was in the series against India later that year that Trescothick started to really arrive in International cricket. A century in the ODIs in India and a 99 in a Test match showed that he was more than just a flat track bully.
Even when his returns dwindled in 2002, Trescothick was backed by the England team and he repaid their faith in the following couple of years with outstanding performances. He made 10 hundreds across formats in those two years and was an impressive force in Test cricket in particular. After a scintillating double ton at The Oval against the Proteas to draw the series, he turned up in South Africa to outshine the others with some outrageous knocks from the top of the order against a quality bowling attack.
Even in the greatest Test series of all-time, the Ashes 2005, he shone with a brilliant run of form, coming behind top-scorer Kevin Pietersen in the run tally for England. He also became the quickest to 5000 Test runs during the series, a sign of his rapid progress in International cricket. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, Trescothick managed over 1000 calendar runs in a year in Tests.
The first sign of Trescothick’s illness perhaps came as early as 2002 when after putting his hand up to keep for England in a series in New Zealand, he felt drained. At the time the England opener thought that it was merely a bout of homesickness. In 2005, he became a father and touring got tougher. Though he readily stepped up for Michael Vaughan to captain the side in 2004, when captaincy again came calling in 2005, Trescothick hesitated.
He eventually did stand up for the team when Vaughan left and at Multan slammed an outstanding 193 in a 305-ball marathon knock. But somehow it wasn’t the old Trescothick batting and playing. The spirit constantly flogged down and before England’s tour of India in 2006, he approached Steve Bull, the sports psychologist, clearly mindful of the fact that “something wasn’t right”. With his wife suffering from a post-natal depression, Trescothick had zero urge to go for the tour to India. When Vaughan fell injured at Vadodara and Trescothick was required to captain the team in a tour game, the breakdown became evident. Suffering panic attacks at the night, he went into a complete shell and broke down entirely in the dressing room, prompting England to send him back home. Breaking the news to the media was even more painful given that there were no prior cases in the open and it resulted in mixed signals being sent out.
It took Trescothick quite a while to come to terms with his sickness and the seriousness of it. International cricket became a burden and even when he hit a hundred against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on his comeback in 2006, he knew his career was on a slow burn.
“When you’re in the wrong frame of mind and you’re not thinking rationally, playing in front of that crowd with the spotlight on you, it’s bloody horrible,” Trescothick revealed later. “When your brain becomes a bit more rational, and you understand it a bit more, and you’re a bit healthier again, then you sort of become normal-thinking in that aspect, and appreciate that’s not going to happen. It’s just when you’re in a dark place at times, of course those sort of questions come to you.”
THE REVIVAL IN COUNTY CRICKET
His International career done and dusted, Trescothick found that the county game he had nearly deserted during his six-year England career was a way for him to get back onto his feet. It was easier for him with the ground close by his home. The low-key atmosphere of county games also worked in Trescothick’s favour and step by step he found gratification in donning those county whites.
From a rising giant in England cricket, Trescothick turned into the most sought after wicket in the county game. When other Internationals used county cricket as merely a path for England selection, Trescothick embraced it, lived by it and his love for batting came to materialization at Somerset, a county he stuck by for all 27 seasons of his first-class career.
Since his England retirement, Trescothick became a real beast in County cricket – he passed 1000 runs in a season 10 times in the following 10 years and in 2009, struck eight hundreds in one season. An average in the mid-30s in county cricket initially broke past the 40s and edged closer to the mid-40s after his International career before settling at 41.95.
Until 2009, he even harboured hopes of returning for England but when he failed to complete a tour of Dubai with the Somerset side, Trescothick knew the end was near. His memoir, “Coming back to me”, helped several cricketers deal with their mental health issues. Ever since he became open to his own problems, Trescothick felt more relaxed and free and it also served in helping others come out. Following him, England men’s team players like Andrew Flintoff, Steven Davies, Michael Yardy and Jonathan Trott aside from Sarah Taylor were more open about their issues.
COULD ENGLAND HAVE MADE ADJUSTMENTS?
Trescothick had no idea if his International career could have been prolonged. In 2009, before the final Ashes Test at the Oval, there were talks about Trescothick making a comeback for England in home conditions. The rumour mills churned out stories and at one point, it felt like Trescothick was nearly hoping for a comeback himself.
However, he woke up in “cold sweat” after entertaining thoughts of a recall himself.
“It has been very flattering to see my name mentioned in so many circles since Australia’s crushing win at Headingley and I’d be a liar if I said the prospect of playing at The Oval hadn’t occupied my mind a lot,” he told the Bristol Evening Post at the time. “In fact, that has been the case to such an extent that the other day I woke up at 6.30am from a terrible dream. There is a nightmare a lot of cricketers experience that they can’t get their pads on when they are due in to bat. My dream was a variation of that. I couldn’t get my England kit out of my bag! The other players were waiting for me on the pitch to do a team photo so I was in a right panic. I woke up in a cold sweat.”
He messaged selector and former teammate Ashley Giles to indicate that if at all they were thinking about him for that Oval Test, they can put those thoughts to rest as he “was done”.
That really was the last Trescothick thought about an England return but could England have made adjustments for him?
After Andrew Strauss’ retirement in 2012, England were struggling to find an opening partner for Alastair Cook and that challenge went on until Cook’s retirement last year. They still continue to pick and ditch openers from the county circuit.
At least in 3-4 of those extended years when England were short of openers, Trescothick was bulldozing in the county scene. Could they have convinced him to play only home Tests at least? Possibly make arrangements so that he and his family were in a good enough space? Perhaps, it is the lingering taste that Trescothick’s International career left in our mouths that prompts such thoughts but it really would have reinvigorated quite a few fans to see Trescothick back in England colours, even if only for the home games.
The end, when it came in 2019, wasn’t soft and mellow as it was expected to be for someone who had given his life and soul to the county and given up International cricket a decade and more ago. Instead, he was dropped at the age of 43 for an away fixture against Kent after averaging 10.75 in his first five matches of the season.
— Somerset Cricket 🏏 (@SomersetCCC) May 4, 2018
Somerset held a 15-point advantage at the stage and with Azhar Ali declared fit, Trescothick was left to play for the second XI, an unfair bit of treatment that the veteran received understandingly. Since his International debut in 2000, Trescothick had never been dropped from the county side when he was available.
The oldest to feature in the County Championship after Graham Gooch (44) and John Emburey (44), Trescothick being dropped was uncalled for. Even with their batsmen including captain Tom Abell not making consistent runs, Trescothick wasn’t recalled to the first team. None of Somerset’s batsmen average over 32 in this County season so far and they left a 27-season veteran with a first-class average of 41.05, 66 first-class tons and a stand of his own at the Taunton ground to play for the second XI.
When announcing his decision to retire from first-class cricket, the 43-year old said, “There’s still a lot of the season left, and I’ll be doing everything I can to put in performances for the second XI in order to force my way back into contention for the first team.”
Pretty much sums up his commitment to the game and Somerset, doesn’t it?