2019 is certainly the end of an era for Somerset County Cricket Club. Marcus Trescothick has called time on a great playing career that spanned 27 years and one in which he has achieved so much. And his legend has been shaped not just by the way he performed on a cricket field but the manner he acted off it too.
I enjoy to read and write about the players and characters who helped shape Somerset County Cricket Club into the club it is today. From eccentric land owners to farmers’ sons, bank manager’s to railway workers, Somerset’s illustrious history – which for so many years was mostly not that illustrious at all – is made up of an eclectic mix of colourful and effervescent characters who came from varying backgrounds to wear the Wyvern and ultimately carve their name into local folklore and legend.
And, just as I enjoy reading about the lives and careers of the likes of Woods, Palairet, White, Wellard, Gimblett and Alley, in 100 years’ time people will be talking with the same relish about the life and career of Marcus Edward Trescothick, just as they do now. A man known as Tres.
Primarily they will talk about the player; one good enough to captain club and country with such reason, discipline and aplomb. They will recall the batsman whose abilities could span the different formats; capable of hitting the ball long and hard in one-day cricket but able to craft double hundreds in the longer form. They will remember the centuries he scored (scoring more tons for Somerset than any other) and the runs he amassed, with only Harold Gimblett scoring more first-class runs.
They will talk about the all-rounder – at times a useful enough bowler to take 36 first-class wickets, including a hat-trick against the Young Australians in 1995 (where one of the victims was none other than Adam Gilchrist). The keeper who stood in Test matches against the worlds best and the fielder who holds the record for most catches held by a Somerset player.
The records he broke will be remembered and recited by writers and commentators for years to come. As will the three PCA player awards and his being named one of Wisden’s Cricketer’s of the Year in 2005. These career facts and figures are well documented and will stand the test of time. But it is the man behind the cricketer that should be most celebrated. Tres being that rare breed that could combine brilliance with modesty, humility, loyalty, dedication and being one always adopting a sense of fair play. A great cricketer indeed, but an even greater man. And an incredibly brave one at that.
Marcus Trescothick was born in the North Somerset town of Keynsham on Christmas Day in 1975, and was cricket mad from a very young age. Although living close to the city of Bristol it was always going to be Somerset for the young Tres. That was his team, that was his dream. Father Martyn was a fine player who attracted the attention of Somerset as a youngster and the family, including his mother and elder sister, all followed the fortunes of the local cricket club with much enthusiasm.
Described as a ‘big lad for his age’ the young Trescothick never took his talent for granted aware that hard work and practice would ultimately stand him in good stead. And it did, working his way up through club cricket, the Somerset age groups, into County Championship cricket and ultimately to England, where his exploits for his country offered him a large amount of international fame, respect and adulation.
He played the game in the right spirit. As a captain he wanted opposition batsmen out – so he should – but that didn’t mean incoming batters were greeted with a flurry of insults or their families disrespected – any internal aggression was focused on motivating his bowlers to do their job. He didn’t dish out the thousand yard stares when batting; should any bowler stupidly decide to partake in banter his retribution – if you can call it that – was to ping the next delivery into the stands. Again and again. He broke the hearts of many a bowler in his time. And he probably delayed one or two bowlers’ careers whilst he was at it.
And all these achievements to the backdrop of a dark force that lurked within. In 2007 – at the height of his powers and when the world appeared to be his oyster – Tres stunned the cricket world when he announced his premature retirement from international cricket. He was 31. At the heart of this decision was his struggles with mental health which reached a critical point on tour in 2006 when anxiety and depression, brought on by chronic homesickness, led to his being unable to function properly. At the heart of it this Somerset boy just wanted to be home in Taunton with wife, Hayley, and family.
Such issues were not new to the game of cricket. In his book Absolutely Foxed, former Lancashire, Durham and England opener Graham ‘Foxy’ Fowler opined that the game and failing mental health went hand-in-hand as most players fail more than they succeed. At least they do in their heads.
Many players had succumbed to troubles of the mind, including Bicknoller’s Gimblett, whose life was so dogged by depression that he died wilfully in 1978 aged just 63. There are many others. Too many others. But no-one really spoke about it.
It is possibly easy to forget the potential implications of this bold move by Tres to speak so publicly about his issues. Simply put it could have subjected him to much ridicule, and even ruined his career. And he would have appreciated that the ignorati would view his withdrawal from international cricket as him spurning his country. And some did.
Attitudes towards mental health were entirely different just 12 short years ago. In the mid-noughties, my football club, Leeds United – who were falling from the Premier League to the second division with consummate ease – were being linked in the newspapers with a move for QPR centre-half Clarke Carlisle. Carlisle had developed personal problems, including an alcohol addiction, and was later admitted to Sporting Chance, a clinic run by former England player Tony Adams, for treatment for alcohol-related problems. And this led to chronic depression which he later had counselling for. The papers were not very gracious about his struggles with mental health and news of his potential move to West Yorkshire prompted one back-page headline to read something like “Leeds linked with nutter.” Not nice. Carlisle, to his huge credit, continues to fight depression and champions the mental health cause today to help others.
With such ungracious attitudes from the press and public, and cricket attracting a ‘new’ and more raucous crowd, particularly the drink-fuelled spectators for the twenty-over game, it was easy to think at the time that Tres had made an error of judgement. But fortune favours the brave, and by doing this Tres showed that true bravery was not hiding away and suffering in silence but speaking up. Real men man up by speaking up.
In his 2008 autobiography, Coming Back To Me, Tres did just that, detailing his experiences with depression and anxiety and the pressures it placed on him and his family. The tears, collapses, hours spent in darkness. The book sold by the bucket load and won an abundance of awards but, more importantly, it spoke to thousands of people – myself included – who were also suffering from this horrible illness. It sent a clear and loud message to all of us: if Marcus Trescothick can stand up and talk about mental health then so can we. Only we didn’t have to walk out and face drunken and potentially hostile crowds in Taunton, Bristol, Chelmsford or London afterwards. The book and his bravery changed many opinions on this once totally taboo subject. And now so many more people – particularly males – feel far more comfortable talking about the voices in their heads than ever before.
He was a pioneer. It is impossible to quantify how many lives his bravery changed, or even saved, but there will be many. His own battle with his issues will continue and he still talks openly and honestly describing the anxiety that broods within him as “the beast that lives inside”. He talks about the shivers he gets when he thinks another collapse is near. But he has the support of his family to help him through.
So celebrate the player – remember the fours, the sixes, the fifties and the hundreds – but also celebrate the man. A great man.
But this is no final goodbye or sailing off into the sunset – Tres is an integral part of the woodwork at the Cooper Associates County Ground and is expected to play some part in the coaching team at Somerset. I certainly hope he does. The youngsters at Somerset could have no greater teacher when learning how to conduct themselves on a cricket field or crafting an innings when in the middle. Or if they have to face the monsters waiting for them as they walk off of it.
There are so many of us who should be so grateful to Tres.