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It was a battle that Tres simply could never win

Ten years on, Peter Hayter looks at the brave call by Marcus Trescothick to face his demons and leave the international game

In the good times, the times before the long days and longer nights when depressive illness turned stretches of my life into a slow death, I had occasionally caught a glimpse of the perfect end to my career as an England cricketer; at The Oval, pausing on my way back to the dressing room to acknowledge the applause celebrating the Test century with which I had just secured our latest Ashes victory.

“That was what I saw in my sunlit daydreams. That was how it was supposed to happen.”

Ten years ago this week, how the international career of Marcus Trescothick actually did end was rather different. On September 5, 2006, in the third One-Day International against Pakistan at The Rose Bowl, the England opener took guard and promptly missed the one ball he faced, from Shoaib Akhtar, which bowled him all ends up. At the time, he had no way of knowing it would turn out to be the last he faced wearing an England helmet.

The news that he was to withdraw from the squad for the ICC Champions Trophy due to a “stress-related illness” was about to break but, after treatment, he was passed well enough to make the squad for the 2006-07 tour to Australia. But when, prior to the start of that Ashes series, the same demons that had forced his early return from the previous winter’s tour to India returned to torment him again, the moment he boarded the ‘plane home he knew there could be no going back to becoming a full-time England player – though it took another year and another collapse hours before a club pre-season trip to Dubai before he made the announcement that confirmed it.

That a decade on, at the age of 40, he has enjoyed the kind of season with his beloved Somerset that made their offer of another one-year-contract a mere formality should fill him and them with satisfaction, not to mention pride. But, of all the elements of his contribution to understanding of the illness with which he has dealt so courageously, which has allowed others after him to be treated with far more tolerance, sensitivity and maturity than might otherwise have been the case, one of the most significant has been that, during that time, he has turned down the chance of making a comeback not once, but twice.

Not that he actually had any choice, as he himself admits, because, when it came to it, the prospect of putting himself back into the situation which may have contributed to his condition in the first place was simply overwhelming. But Trescothick’s inability to return to international cricket has served to help those who have been inclined to dismiss depressive illness as weakness bordering on self-indulgence to understand just how serious those conditions really are, and how dangerous.

For if this man, who was put on the planet to play cricket for England and lived and loved and slept and ate the game for as long as he could remember and was considered as near to indispensible by them as it is possible to be, was just not capable of doing so, what was preventing him could no longer be ignored or considered his problem in isolation. It simply had to be taken seriously by the game, the players, the clubs and the administrators, and confronted head on. The nub of Marcus’ dilemma was summed up in another extract from his book, Coming Back To Me, in which he details the conversation between himself and a specialist soon after his return from Australia.

“Within five minutes of our conversation starting,” recalled Trescothick, “he looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘Do you want to get back to playing for England?’

“My response was illuminating. ‘Yeah, I do, I think’. I stuttered. ‘No, yeah, I really do’.”

“That doesn’t sound very convincing,” he said.

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to play for England if it’s going to make me feel s**t again’.”

The first time Marcus was tempted by the promise of a return to the fold, he came within a short, well meaning but unintentionally crippling conversation with the-then coach Peter Moores of saying yes.

By mid-summer 2007, the England selectors were required to name their preliminary 30-man squad for the World T20, to be played at the end of it. They had left the door open for Trescothick and his form for the county had been excellent all season, including a highest first-class score of 284 against Northamptonshire in May. And he felt well enough to accept their offer to be included in the initial squad for the two-week tournament in South Africa on the basis that any decision over whether he was ok to be picked for the final fifteen could be taken at a later date and, more importantly, that his availability would be a one-off, for this tournament only.

According to Trescothick: “Peter (Moores) was his usual enthusiastic, positive self. He was delighted that I had made myself available for the Twenty20, and then he said, ‘It would be great for the team to see you committing to the one-day series in Sri Lanka (that followed) as well’.

“Almost before the words were cold…. the barrier went up inside my head. ‘Oh f**k’, I thought to myself. ‘Oh f**k, I wish you hadn’t said that’.”

No doubt Moores was trying to be supportive. To Marcus the words opened a corridor to hell. The second and last time England came calling was when they were seeking a replacement for Ravi Bopara for the fifth and final Test of the 2009 Ashes at The Oval.  Mark Ramprakash’s name had also been mentioned, Jonathan Trott was eventually given the nod and how he repaid the faith of the selectors, with his brilliant hundred on Test debut. But that happened only after Marcus, sounded out by England the week before the match, had woken up in a cold sweat and realised he had just experienced the batsman’s nightmare of being next man in; physically incapable of getting to the wicket in time and so knew his answer must be ‘thanks, but not in a million years’.

Which brings us back to dream of a perfect ending, of raising his bat to the Oval crowd as they cheered an Ashes-winning century. Of course, in different circumstances, Marcus would have loved nothing better than to live that moment in reality. The fact that he knew it was quite impossible tells you how high was the risk to his well-being were he to try to do so and reminds us just how seriously the condition he still copes with every day demands to be taken.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, September 9 2016

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