Almost a decade on since his last appearance for England, Marcus Trescothick is still one of the most prolific batsmen in county cricket. Jo Harman spoke to the Somerset skipper about his remarkable longevity, his adjustment from international cricketer to county pro and the “ongoing process” of managing his mental health.
Marcus Trescothick has just finished his 23rd season at Somerset. He could have been forgiven for putting his feet up after another gruelling campaign before pre-season and the merry-go-round kicks into life again. Instead he’s just finished a 400-mile, five-day charity bike ride. He describes it as “brilliant fun” and a chance to “relax a little bit”, which tells you everything you need to know about his work ethic. Arguably the most complete English batsman of his generation may have stopped playing international cricket almost a decade ago, but he’s never been so busy.
He’ll be back at the County Ground in Taunton in a couple of weeks for screening and fitness testing that will set up his winter training programme. He has a part-time role as cricket development coach at Taunton School and is also part of the Sky Sports punditry team. Then there’s his most important work of all. Six years on from the publication of his candid and courageous autobiography, Coming Back To Me, Trescothick still dedicates as much time as he can to raising awareness of mental health. “There are now people coming out and talking about it all the time, whereas before we never had any inkling about what people were going through,” he tells AOC. “The more we talk about it, the more we publicise it through social media and TV, then the easier it is for people to talk about.”
In the past Trescothick has described the “beast that lives inside me” and he says it is still something he has to deal with on a regular basis. “I don’t think it will ever go away but it’s something that can be managed and coped with and you can learn how to deal with the pressures and strains when these things arise. It will be an ongoing process over the years, no doubt.”
The largely compassionate reaction to Jonathan Trott’s withdrawal from the 2013/14 Ashes due to a stress-related condition demonstrated just how far cricket, and society in general, has come in its understanding of mental health, particularly when put in contrast with Trescothick’s own departure from England’s tour of India in 2006 when Duncan Fletcher said it was down to “family reasons” before Trescothick confused matters by claiming that he had “picked up a bug”.
Trescothick says he eventually reached a point where he just wanted to “tell everybody” about it. “I’d run and hidden for a long, long time, blagging my way around it and trying not to tell people what was going on. There was no defining moment when I thought, ‘Right, now I’ve got to tell people’, it was just brewing and brewing and the book was the ideal opportunity to tell the real story in my own words. There were many different stories giving different reasons for what was going on and I had the chance to put the record straight.
“When I was writing the book initially it was hard to understand the impact it was going to have. A few people were advising me that it would have a massive impact but I didn’t really appreciate that at the time. Then I wrote it and it went big. To know that we started that process and that people are continuing it on is a nice feeling.”
Michael Yardy, Tim Ambrose, John Mooney, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison are just a few of the cricketers who have revealed their own battles with depression in recent years. Without Trescothick’s bravery in talking so publically about an illness that has a curious and concerning predilection for affecting cricketers, it’s highly doubtful whether they would have felt comfortable in opening up – and even more doubtful that if they had, they would have been properly understood. Because Trescothick’s candour not only empowered those who suffer from mental illness to come forward, it allowed those who don’t to have a better understanding of what it is and how it affects people.
That a seemingly uncomplicated young sportsman at the peak of his career who loved nothing more than smashing boundaries and eating sausages had such inner demons came as a shock to people. If an Ashes-winning cricketer living out his boyhood dream was suffering with this illness, then that must mean that anyone is susceptible. Which of course is exactly the point. As Trescothick says in his book: “Depression doesn’t care who it attacks. If it wants you, you cannot beat it off with a CV or a bank balance.”
AOC asks if he is even prouder of the impact he’s had off the field than he’s had on it. “It’s hard to compare the two. I think I’m more renowned these days for the writing of the book and talking about mental health issues because it affects a wider group of people across the country and across the world but I still see myself as a cricketer who has to deal with problems, not the other way round.”
When Trescothick’s illness forced him to retire from international cricket in 2008, two years after his last appearance for England, it felt like his career had come to a sad and premature end. But while he has been sorely missed on the international stage, his career had many miles left to run. He’s passed 1,000 first-class runs in seven of the last nine seasons, hitting more than 1,300 this year to finish as the fourth-highest runscorer in the country. He’ll be turning 40 on Christmas Day but isn’t contemplating retirement yet and signed a one-year contract extension with Somerset in September. AOC wouldn’t mind betting that he’ll sign another extension this time next year.
Trescothick’s longevity in county cricket sets him apart from other leading England batsmen of the last two decades. Whereas Atherton, Stewart, Hussain and Strauss all played their last professional match in England whites, quitting the game altogether when they no longer felt they could do their job for England, Trescothick is still churning out runs for his county almost a decade after stepping away from international cricket. In part this is due to circumstance; when Trescothick realised he couldn’t cope with the demands of playing for England, county cricket was the next best thing. But, nonetheless, to still be pounding the county circuit into his forties shows a rare, enduring passion.
“I still love what I do,” he says. “I get up every day and continue to do so. I’m sure at some point that will change and I’ll get up and go, ‘Do you know what? I can’t be bothered to do this anymore’. And that’ll be the time I need to say ‘Thanks very much’ and move on, but that time hasn’t come yet. I’m still enjoying it.”
Trescothick admits the switch from ‘England international’ to ‘county pro’ took some readjustment. “It’s different. It wasn’t ever a struggle to get up for county games, it’s just a different kind of motivation. When you play international cricket there’s a natural buzz around the ground and the crowd create that feeling for you. But you’ve almost got to create that yourself [in county cricket]. When I stopped playing with England I also had to make a conscious effort to try and change my game – to learn how to play in the county fashion, really. The pitches are different, the pace of bowling is different, so you’ve just got to try and adjust. It took me a few months over that first season to get used to it. But you do. You learn a method.”
Trescothick says batting has been made a whole lot easier since he started wearing glasses this season. They’re not your funky, sport-friendly Edgar Davids-style bins – far from it. Aside from an anti-fog coating, they’re just a regular pair of specs. “I’d been playing around with different contact lenses for a number of years, not getting them quite right,” he says. “The reason behind it is I can’t wear contact lenses because it’s such a small prescription in one eye that it almost counteracts it if you put a lens in. It was an instant relief because things definitely changed pretty quickly. Sweat does sometimes drip straight onto the lens just as a bowler’s about to let go of the ball, which is a pain in the arse. But I’m more than happy to keep wearing them.”
After a disappointing 2013 in which Trescothick averaged 27 in first-class cricket and went century-less for the first time in 15 years, it felt as though the end might be nigh. But it’s been clear over the past two years – 2,500 first-class runs, seven tons – that he’s got plenty left in the tank. That appetite for runs still hasn’t been sated. “I feel like I’ve left a lot of runs out there,” he says. “Bar the last few weeks where I hit them well and capitalised on some good form and some good pitches, I feel there were periods where I could have done better. It was a good finish, but it would have been nice to carry on for a little bit.”
He’s disappointed with Somerset’s performances this season – sixth in the Championship and failing to go beyond the group stages in the limited-overs comps – and believes they’re playing well below their potential. The club will be boosted by the arrival of Chris Rogers next season, the Aussie set to bat first drop with Trescothick and the promising Tom Abell continuing to open.
“Tom’s brain operates in a very good way in terms of his approach to the game,” Trescothick says of his junior partner. “These characters come into the system and you can just see that they have a natural hunger to play the game and score runs. I know when Alastair [Cook] came into the England team it was very much like that and Tom has a very similar sort of approach. If he turns out anything like as good as Alastair Cook then we’ll be laughing!”
Trescothick feels it’s only a matter of time before two other products of the Somerset Academy move on to higher honours. “I think there’s a very, very good chance the Overton twins will be included [by England] somewhere along the line. They’ve got different attributes. Craig’s an allrounder who bowls nicely and can whack it at the end, and then you’ve got Jamie who’s an x-factor bowler who bowls at a very high pace. It will be interesting to see how long we can keep hold of them here before they disappear off.”
There’s an interesting mix of youth and experience developing at Somerset and while Yorkshire look streets ahead of the rest, Trescothick harbours hopes of lifting the club’s first-ever County Championship title before he hangs up his boots. “That’s obviously our goal. The County Championship is the one that’s eluded the club for a long, long time, so we’d all love to get our hands on it.”
It would be a fitting finale for a man who’s given so much to the county game, and to cricket in general. The illness that gave Trescothick no choice but to give up on the thing he had always dreamt of doing would have been enough to finish lesser men off. That he’s still there a decade on – standing upright at the crease, backlift raised, waiting to crunch the balls through the covers with minimal foot movement and maximum power – tells you all you need to know about the strength of Marcus Trescothick.