(Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)
By Peter Hayter
Leaden-legs aching and thick, Marcus Trescothick reckons how he feels after three days on the Big Bike Ride for the Tom Maynard Trust is just how he feels after a four-day championship game for Somerset these days.
But, though 41 and counting he is still going strongly enough for the club to have offered him another year at the county ground and, bearing in mind the events of a decade ago, when he was forced to quit playing for England due to depressive illness, that is something of which he and all those who helped him through his darkest days should be proud.
The imminent departure of England’s Ashes squad is a sweet and sad reminder of what might have been and of what has been.
But, catching up with him mid-ride a New Road, Worcester, I found that, while symptoms of the illness that laid him low do return to dog him from time to time, Trescothick’s passion for the game remains as deep as ever.
PH: An Ashes series must provoke mixed emotions for you, from your wonderful summer of 2005 to the dreadful winter of 2006-07. Ten years on, what are your memories?
MT: Winning the Ashes in 2005 is the highlight, not just of my England career, but my entire career. It was fantastic. Still now, wherever I go, everyone talks about it so much. But the great sadness is that the XI that played in that series never took the field again.
We all thought this team had so much potential, that we could be something special. We had everything; a great four-man attack in Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones, Ashley Giles doing a great job as our spinner and a solid, run-making, batting line-up. And once Kevin Pietersen came in and added that spark of genius, what else did we need?
Then suddenly, just like that, it ended. Things fell apart so fast.
PH: And one of the reasons was your illness. After having already come home from the tour to India in early 2006, when you broke down again shortly after the start of that year’s Ashes tour, did you feel, deep down, that your England career was over?
MT: I’d managed to get back into the Test side that summer and I was doing pretty well. I missed the Champions Trophy in India because it was felt it might be risky for me to go back there. But I thought I’d be all right and building up to going to Australia I felt pretty good.
Then it went belly-up quickly and I was battling every day, just trying to hang on, thinking I’ll get through this, it will get better, it will get better. But it just wouldn’t. It was getting worse every day. And then came the realsation: If I can’t do Australia, where can I go?
As well as the pressure of going into any series, I was a walking story by then. From then on, every time I was about to get on a plane to go away it was like: “How are you doing?” And I’d say: “I feel really good.”
But inside I’d actually be thinking I’m ****ing battling here and I haven’t slept for two nights. That’s what it came to and that’s why it came to an end.
PH: But you’re still here, ten years on.
MT: Because I still love it. How I feel now, after three days on the bike, is pretty much how I feel after every four-day game; completely knackered, but I love it and I still have the aspiration to carry on as long as I can.
The bits and pieces, the joy you get from playing well and winning games, are still the same.
PH: But do you look forward and say realistically, there must be a limit?
MT: I don’t know what that is. If I was to go into next season and, by mid summer, I hadn’t really improved on what I’d done this year (714 Championship runs at 28.56 with two centuries) then I’d think it would be fair to say enough is enough, let the youngsters have a go.
But if I come out and have the season I did two years ago (1,239 runs at 51.62 with four hundreds) then why not keep going? It’s not going to be a lack of passion that stops me; it will be form or movement, or lack of it!
When it goes well it’s still great fun, like when we found this new fielding position over the course of the summer (on his knees, ridiculously close to the bat at backward point for the spin of Jack Leach). It just gives you something new to play with and to think about; the buzz of doing something different.
I also get that from trying to help other players.
PH: In what way?
MT: I open the batting now with Eddie Byrom and it’s great because we are starting to work each other out and understand each other. He comes and talks to me a lot because he loves thinking about the game and asking questions. We had a chat towards the back end of the summer about: “What do you like?” We sat there for about 20 minutes asking stupid questions like: “Do you like walking out first? How do you walk out? What is your routine?”
And I asked him: “When we are out in the middle do you want me to say things like ‘play a little straighter?’ And he said no, just say ‘keep going’.
Now we have a really good understanding of how each other works, which is so important for an opening partnership. The joy for me is there is always something you don’t know. Potentially, the club wants me to move into batting coaching, at some point as and when I’m done. Even now, in 2nd XI matches, it’s great fun because you are working with guys you know have real potential to move on in the next few years and you get to see them in that environment where you’re trying to educate them about the standard and level you have to reach, and help them understand whether you are playing a second team game, a club game, Championship match or even a Test match, your approach has to be the same.
You can’t go into any game thinking oh, I don’t need to warm up today, or I don’t need to have a hit today. You have to get yourself into the correct mindset every time.
PH: And you’ve said publicly that your illness is still with you. How do you deal with it when it comes?
MT: I manage it as I have done for the last ten years, with medication and support. The club has always been brilliant with me and a great example of how to deal with these issues, as have the Professional Cricketer’s Association who are so far ahead of the game in this field. I don’t necessarily speak to my therapist all the time. But when I need to or when things are going wrong I’ll sit down and try and work it all out. Reboot.
PH: Attitudes to mental health issues in sport are changing, thanks in part to you coming out about your problems in your book and subsequent work with the PCA. But does more need to be done?
MT: I went to a meeting at the House of Commons the other day with representatives of other sports. It was a chance to share insights into how each sport is managing our own problems.
I thought sport was making inroads because cricket is doing a grand job, and rugby too.
But about halfway through the conversation I said I’m really sorry, but while I do TV and radio interviews painting this picture of how well cricket is dealing with the issues, all I’m hearing from you guys is that you’ve got nothing. You’ve got nothing in place to help people out. Other guys were saying that their administrators and people behind the scenes don’t want to know. No, we can’t go down that road. We’re not doing that.
People ask whether the illnesses are more prevalent in cricket than other sports and, no, after that conversation I genuinely don’t believe that. It’s just the fact that we’ve dealt with it better, possibly had to because of what happened to me and that has given people the encouragement to come forward and to seek help.
I’d rather not have experienced any of it. But if that is one of the outcomes of what I went through, then at least some good has come out of it.
Marcus Trescothick has just completed Big Bike Ride 3, a 360-mile cycle ride from Edgbaston to Cardiff via Sheffield, the Peak District, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Forest of Dean and Welsh mountains, in support of the PCA Benevolent Fund and Tom Maynard Trust. Donations can be made at: www.mydonate.bt.com/events/bigbikeride3