|HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHERS|
the observer Sat 13 September 2008
Marcus Trescothick has been one of England's finest opening batsmen, with 76 Tests and 123 one-day internationals to his name. Yet at the age of 32, when batsmen have just reached their peak, he is now confined to the domestic circuit, where this summer he has been pummelling county bowlers in between rainstorms. This book attempts to explain why.
Trescothick, almost uniquely, was never dropped by England from the day he made his debut in July 2000 to his final international appearance in September 2006. But towards the end of that career he was often absent from the side. The reason, we discover in sometimes harrowing detail, was because he suffers from depression, triggered by his separation from home and family.
On three occasions he had to flee for home when he was supposed to be representing club or country: from India and Sydney in 2006, and from the Dixon's electrical store in Gatwick in March 2008. The final instance, when his county team, Somerset, were about to depart on a pre-season tour to Dubai, prompted him to announce his retirement from international cricket. He could not bring himself to board the plane.
Trescothick may not be a man of broad interests. Cricket has always been his life. But he had a tale to tell even before the onset of his illness. A precocious youngster, who scored 4,000 runs in a season as a 15-year-old in 1991 (his mum counted them all up), he progressed into an England side that went on to become one of the best in the game's history. The team's achievements culminated in the 2005 Ashes triumph, which enthralled the nation.
It was Trescothick who launched the assault on Australia in 2005. With England already 1-0 down after defeat at Lord's, the circus moved on to Birmingham. Just before the start of the match, Glenn McGrath trod on a cricket ball, injuring his ankle and ruling himself out of the match, and subsequently prompting this thanksgiving from Lord MacLaurin at a celebratory cricket dinner: 'Our final thanks before we eat for the ball you placed beneath Glenn's feet.'
Trescothick cracked 90 at Edgbaston, which delivered the message that this England side was not lying down. It ignited the summer, a defiant innings from a player who Nasser Hussain has described as the 'most selfless' of cricketers. No one speaks badly of Trescothick.
Yet this is not the story Trescothick and his ghostwriter, Peter Hayter, really yearn to tell. The cricket is dutifully, though routinely, covered in the first half of the book. But there are not as many insights as we might expect. For example, Trescothick was often regarded as 'Duncan's boy' since he spent so much time under the tutelage of Duncan Fletcher, England's coach throughout this period. Yet we learn little new about the enigmatic Zimbabwean. By contrast, the recollection of Trescothick's anguish in Baroda and elsewhere is compelling and the depth of his despair often shocking.
The sporting world, more than any other, is unsympathetic to those who show signs of weakness or unorthodoxy. Indeed Trescothick, ill-advised and out of control, initially chose to lie about his condition in a TV interview after his return from India rather than admit to any form of mental illness. This makes his subsequent honesty in recounting his depression all the more admirable.
His battle with the 'black wings' of depression is the kernel of the book and the account of his illness is far more captivating than any of the cricketing triumphs. Hayter, who has worked successfully with Ian Botham and Phil Tufnell in the past, would have recognised that this is what separates Trescothick's story from a run-of-the-mill autobiography.
There was a time when Hayter might have been one of the 'just pull yourself together brigade', but recently he has endured some of the same torment as Trescothick, so he has a peculiar understanding of what his subject has been through. He told me that when they were working together on the book 'we kept finishing one another's sentences'. This shared experience must contribute to the vividness of those passages where Trescothick is reelingly out of control.
The candour of one of our leading sportsmen may well help those who suffer from a similar illness, but that is not the aim of the book. The writing process has had, by his own admission, a cathartic effect upon Trescothick, and it may be no coincidence that in the weeks prior to publication he has been batting sublimely for his county. More importantly, as he does the publicity rounds, he has been smiling.
· Vic Marks is a former England cricketer and cricket correspondent of The Observer