6.10.19

Marcus

Get up. Leave your chair, or your bed. Go outside. If you are in England, even in the balmy south-west, you will see signs of autumn. It may be mild, but the leaves are turning; it may be quiet, but, if you are very lucky now, you may just hear the last of the northern summer's swallows, swifts and housemartins as they ready themselves to fly south. Come Newlands in January, when England are playing, this is where they will be.

There may be a slight chill in the air; a chill that may be real, or metaphorical. For cricket followers at this time of year there is always a chill. For this is where cricketers' dreams die and where players' careers end.

Marcus Trescothick's career ended here.

1991. Trescothick, 15 years old, beaming rosy-cheeked from the pages of The Cricketer. A new Slazenger bat is his, a reward for scoring 4000 runs in the season. He is flanked by Angus Fraser and Carl Hooper and Micky Stewart. The runs are extraordinary, but nobody knows if they will ever hear of him again. Young cricketers do exceptional things all the time, and frequently they fade into obscurity. Sometimes they come back, often they don't.

1994. Bath, June; a hot summer Saturday at the old festival ground, now sadly lost to the county game. Ringed in deckchairs and marquees, teeming with people, Bath Abbey gazing down like a sentinel. England are playing New Zealand at Lord's and they are struggling. The sound of TMS drifts across the ground from one of the beer tents, but it is only of marginal interest. For the many devout supporters of Somerset who are there, the fact that the Wyvern county is in the ascendant against Surrey is of much greater significance. What is more, young players are thriving. A slight and shy boy from north Devon called Mark Lathwell has already made a double hundred with timing that is a thing of beauty and art. It is art that is coincidental, in that he doesn't seem to realize how he is doing it, and nor do you, or anyone else. He has already played for England, and, despite a hesitant start to his Test career, he looks certain to go far in the professional game. Ultimately, though, his Test career has already finished, and he only goes far away from the professional game. This is what can happen.

Then there is Marcus. He may also be shy, but he is far from slight. In essence he is still a bulky boy on the edge of manhood at 18, and he is just starting to find his feet as an adult cricketer. On that day you see him make his maiden century in first-class cricket with the same ripe combination of drives, cuts and pulls as you will see so many times in the future. Of course, you have no idea of the bumps that there will be in the road, and nor does he. Nobody ever knows what the future holds, especially where cricket, and the harsh pressure that it can exert on all kinds of personalities, is concerned.

After that, for seasons, things stall. Time after time Marcus's innings consist of some early boundaries followed by dismissal to a catch behind the wicket. There are glimpses of the latent potential: there is a time when you go to Taunton and people are talking about the fact that he has made 322 in a second team game, but there is another time when you are sitting in the old Ridley Stand and Marcus is behind you with his Dad, discussing his future, which still seems uncertain. When you do see him play he is often batting down the order and bowling a little. It seems wrong. But this is the thing with cricket; over an extended period, scores don't lie. You are where you are, until you find yourself somewhere else.

For Marcus, the somewhere else was the England team, and you can still recall watching his first international innings on TV, willing him to succeed. He does, but you also recall telling someone that you feel that Test cricket, with all those fielders behind the wicket, might be a step too far.

Then you are at Taunton on the day when he bats in Test cricket for the first time. Yorkshire's Darren Lehmann is making one of the best half-centuries you have ever seen, or will ever see, but you are, of course, listening to what is happening in Manchester. What is happening in Manchester is that Marcus is batting against the West Indies - the West Indies of Ambrose and Walsh - and he is taking 45 minutes to make his first run. But he goes on to reach 50, and everyone is talking about how cool his temperament is and how well-suited he is to Test cricket.

This is true, and it remains true for years, until Marcus has to return home from India in early 2006, for reasons which everyone knows about now. He plays on for England until the end of the following summer, and you are lucky enough to be at Lord's to see what turns out to be his final Test century, even though you don't know it at the time and nobody else does either.

After this, the second half of his career begins.

The County Championship hasn't yet been condemned to dwell like a neglected orphan in the season's colder and darker months, and Marcus can be found where he is happiest, doing what he does best; close to home and batting at the top of the order for Somerset.

Here is where your impressions of Marcus crystallize into lasting memories, and now, with his time at an end, they flow like the runs used to in the times before his form started to fall away.

The first thought is of a stroke. From around 1999 to 2009 I nearly always sat in the Ian Botham Stand at Taunton, and I saw this stroke many times. Usually at the start of an innings, played against the hard new ball, often in fading light, late in the day, when thoughts turn to home. It is a stroke which usually indicated that Marcus was in form, and that big runs would follow.

The bowler would overpitch around middle and off and Marcus would drive just to the off side of straight. Without much foot movement, of course, but with the straightest of bats and that distinctive little flourish at the top of the stroke which was the nearest he ever got to a trademark. And, when he was really in nick, it would always go inside mid-off, too fast and true for anyone to touch.

There are other vignettes too. There was a time when a decent county seamer, who we'll call James Tomlinson, got a few people out at Taunton and started to fancy himself a little. He dropped one short at Marcus, and the ball was last seen bouncing across the car park and heading in the direction of Priory Bridge Road. Marcus was never the arrogant type, but you don't get to be good enough to play for England if you don't believe in yourself. He didn't need to tell James Tomlinson that he'd faced Brett Lee at Perth in 2002 and so knew what really fast bowling was like. All he had to do was hit the ball out of the ground.

In the years after he left international cricket nobody in Somerset forgot what Marcus could do. We knew it all along and we were reminded of it time and time again. Perhaps others forgot, though. So there were times when he reminded them. The time when he took Surrey for 124 at the Oval in a forty over game, or the time he was applauded off Castle Park in Colchester by Essex supporters who knew that they had seen an innings of majesty.

These years, late in the century's first decade, may have been the apogee of Trescothick's career. If his health had allowed it, he would still have been young enough and good enough to play for England, but he was forced by circumstances to tread the county game's boards instead. To many this would have seemed a much more prosaic existence, but you suspect that to Marcus it never did. He was a child of the county game in ways that players from counties where cricket means less, or who leave it behind for international cricket earlier, never were.

When he and Sir Alastair Cook briefly embraced at the end of their counties' final game of the season, it marked not just the passing of a player's career but the gradual ebbing away of an element of English cricket culture. These were two players, born on the same day nine years apart, whose international careers briefly intersected, and both of them know that their personal histories might have been very different if certain things beyond anyone's control hadn't happened. They also know and understand what it is like to exchange fame and fortune for a more moderate sort of heroism at Chelmsford or Taunton, instead of the Gabba or the Oval, whether you have any choice over the timing of your departure or not.

How many players in the future will get so much professional satisfaction, so much pleasure, from simply playing four day county cricket, long after, for them, the bright lights of the international game have been extinguished? The never-ending world of bastardised cricket will claim most of them before they even have the chance to see what they might become, let alone sink back into the life they used to know before they hit the big time.

And now, as county cricket as we know and love it enters another phase of threat and uncertainty - not that it ever left the last one, or the one before that, behind - memories of Marcus and times like these are what we are left with. And, whatever exists when the pieces thrown into the air and scattered to the winds by The Hundred land, these are what we will always have.

Cherish them for as long as you can.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Marvellous, thank you

Soundbelch said...

I love the mention of that 1991 issue of the Cricketer. To a 13 year old in the West Country who was going to a state school with very limited cricket opportunities, seeing Marcus winning that prize in a sea of privately educated competitors was absolutely inspirational.

A couple of years later I played against him. I did't bowl to him nor faced him with the bat. Instead I had the pleasure of fielding at point on a freezing cold day as our opening seamer bowled short pies dragged down outside of off stump. The boney lump in my right thumb is still there, a permanent reminder of the power MT had even back then.

The embrace between Cook and MT was indeed poignant, even more so as English county cricket sits and waits to see how badly The Hundred ruins it further.

A splendid piece of writing.

Brian Carpenter said...


Many thanks for both comments, especially the second. I'm glad I'm not the only person who recalls his early appearance in The Cricketer, and it's quite an accolade to be able to say you played against Marcus at any time in his life.

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