'The time is definitely right' - Marcus Trescothick on the end of his playing days
The tower of St James' church still overlooks a corner of the ground, the Quantocks still loom in the distance, but the county ground at Taunton will never be quite the same.
For the first time in almost 30 years, there will be no Marcus Trescothick in team photos next season. Well, not as a player anyway. After 40,000 runs and 96 centuries across formats, he has decided, aged 43, that the time has come to move on.
Trescothick has, by any standards, enjoyed a wonderful career. The ICC's historic rankings suggest he was, in mid-2003, rated the best ODI batsman in the world. And while he never quite reached those heights in Test cricket, a career-best rating of No. 6 and an average of 43.79 bears testament to a fine player. He once took a first-class hat-trick, which included the wicket of Adam Gilchrist (for Somerset against Young Australia in 1995), and played five of his 123 ODIs for England as their wicketkeeper.
He rates the 2005 Ashes as a high point, and while he never managed a Test century against Australia, his 431 runs in that series - only Kevin Pietersen managed more for either side - played a huge role in England's eventual success. His 90 at Edgbaston, a rollicking affair that ended 20 minutes after lunch on the first day, may have been the turning point of the summer.
There were other highlights. His maiden Test century, in Galle in 2001, came in an innings when only one other man in the top seven made 20, and against Muttiah Muralitharan at his best. He could play pace too, as 193 against Shoaib Akhtar at his quickest, at Multan in 2005, proved. And if there were times his footwork rendered him vulnerable outside off stump, there were many more times when bowlers spent long hours searching for that edge and finding only that booming cover drive. On flat pitches, such as at The Oval in 2003, his bat looked as wide as a barn door. His 219 was masterful.
But lots of players score mountains of runs or take huge hauls of wickets. To understand Trescothick's true significance, you probably have to know the story of Harold Gimblett. For like Trescothick, Gimblett was a wonderfully talented local batsman whose strokeplay endeared him to spectators and selectors alike. And like Trescothick, Gimblett accumulated vast numbers of runs in the relative calm of county cricket but looked increasingly uncomfortable in the glare of the international game.
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Gimblett remains the only man to have scored more first-class runs for Somerset; Trescothick is the only man to have scored more first-class centuries. If Trescothick isn't the finest batsman produced by Somerset, Gimblett probably is.
More pertinently, both men suffered episodes of mental torment. In both cases it probably curtailed their international careers, with Gimblett playing only three Tests and Trescothick playing none after the age of 30, when he should have been at his peak. Tragically in Gimblett's case, those episodes also curtailed his life. He committed suicide, aged 63, in 1978.
Trescothick, thankfully, found a way through the dark times. And, by sharing his story, not least in his award-winning book Coming Back To Me, helped others afflicted with the same problems find a way to deal with them. He showed people they were not alone, that they should share their concerns and that there was hope. His message was adopted by various sporting bodies - not least the PCA and the ECB - and filtered into other sports, then other professionals and then mainstream areas of society. It's no exaggeration to suggest Trescothick saved lives. And it's no exaggeration to suggest he changed his sport - and probably wider society - in a way very few people manage.It's worth thinking back to the way things were only a few years ago - when cricket used to wonder why so many former players took their own lives; when players were branded weak or spoilt if they expressed doubt or concern
If that sounds like hyperbole, it's worth thinking back to the way things were only a few years ago. To the years when cricket used to wonder why so many former players took their own lives, to the days when players were branded weak or spoilt if they expressed doubt or concern, to the times when national media described those with mental health problems as "bonkers". As recently as 2013-14, the partners of players on England's Ashes tour were being told by the team management not to be afraid of telling their husbands to "grow a pair" if they expressed any concerns. At least two players of that vintage have subsequently admitted they considered harming themselves to get off the treadmill.
Talking to ESPNcricinfo a couple of years ago, when he surpassed Gimblett's number of first-class centuries for Somerset, Trescothick admitted his work in the field of mental health was probably his primary legacy.
"Once I'm passed away the cricket gets forgotten quite quickly," Trescothick said. "But hopefully I can continue in the mental health area and continue to educate people and give them hope that you can come out, talk about it and gain help without worrying about the prospect of what's going to happen. That's potentially what will live on a bit longer. Once we look back in ten years' time, the work I've done with the mental health stuff may live on."
There was, for a while, a concern about what Trescothick would do once his playing career ended. So wrapped up in the game was he, he admitted to going to sleep wearing in his kit early in his career. And, it has been whispered, he may struggle without the sense of purpose provided by a playing career and the automatic support network provided by the dressing room. Just about every player struggles with the transition from playing. Trescothick has, at times, looked especially vulnerable.
He admits he shared some of those fears. But now, with the ending of his career sensitively handled by the club he has served so well, he is looking to the future with enthusiasm and confidence. He even seems a bit relieved it's all over. And besides, with the likes of Tom Banton and George Bartlett coming through, he knows it is time to move aside.
"I guess I've been quite scared about it [retirement] for a long period of time, but once we made the choice it was going to happen this year, I could start to plan and move on," he said on the first day of Somerset's final Championship match, where he was honoured with a presentation during the lunch interval.
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"I'm well and truly over playing. I've had enough of going out there and working out how to try to bat. It's hard work. I've made that switch into coaching and that's really helped me. There may be hard times along the way when I'm really trying to get to grips with it, but the time is definitely right.
"We [Trescothick and the coaching team] were communicating all winter and at the start of the summer, knowing when it was going to be. I knew it was there. I knew it was done at that point [during a game in Guildford, and after five Championship matches had brought a highest score of 23] and then the coach Jason Kerr - who is a good mate - came to me and said, 'Right, we're going to give you a rest.' Which was the right thing to do.
"It wasn't ever going to be tricky because I knew. They knew. We'd been communicating and looking after it for a long period of time. I knew it was going to be happening soon.I'm well and truly over playing. I've had enough of going out there and working out how to try to bat
"The last thing you want to do is be in the way of someone who is going to have their moment. If I'd been scoring runs left right and centre, doing what was needed, then fair enough, it might have been different. But the game and the club have given me great times and I thank them for that. It's time."
He is unlikely to be a stranger around these parts. One of his daughters, Ellie, is said to be a highly promising player, and as he puts it, "I don't foresee moving away from the county."
While there are no firm job offers on the table right now, Trescothick has already spent time coaching at schools, at Somerset, and with the England team ahead of four Ashes Tests this summer. With his experience, both of excelling at the top of the order and dealing with the inevitable setbacks, he has a lot to offer. Combined with an affable character and an eloquence which has made him attractive to broadcasters, there seems every reason to think he will thrive in this next chapter of his career. He says he has no thoughts of playing club or national counties cricket.
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"If I'm playing cricket and trying to eke out a few runs for someone then something's gone drastically wrong and my career plan has not quite worked," he said. "Hopefully something will come to fruition in coaching. It would give me a bit more direction. There is a chance of a job here at Somerset. We've had conversations."
A role with England could be a possibility, too. While he admits he wouldn't relish a full tour at this stage, he is open-minded about shorter stints that he is confident could be achieved without triggering anxiety issues.
"I've been building up to it. I went on Somerset's pre-season this year. I wouldn't want to jump straight into doing two months, but I could do three weeks if they wanted."
His first-class debut came in 1993, five years before Banton or Bartlett were born. In that game, Trescothick opened with Mark Lathwell, another batsman who seemed to have the talent but not the temperament for the biggest stage, and Andy Caddick took a career-best 9 for 32 to defeat Lancashire. Alongside those Ashes memories of 2005, he lists captaining the county he supported as a child - his dad played a few games for the 2nds - for several seasons.
While trophies proved agonisingly elusive, Somerset played consistently good cricket and regularly challenged across formats. They were second in all competitions in 2010. They finished equal on points in the Championship - under previous rules they would have shared the trophy - and then missed out in the T20 competition when the final finished with the scores level but Hampshire won by virtue of having lost fewer wickets. They were runners-up in both limited-overs competitions again in 2011. Given how the Somerset side of the late '70s and early '80s tended to struggle in the Championship, you could argue that the Trescothick period was the best in the club's history.
Throughout it all, Trescothick accumulated runs with a regularity and dominance matched in recent times only by the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick. And, well into his 40s and easily his side's senior player, he could still be seen crouching at short leg - the position generally reserved for the youngest player in the side. He very obviously loved playing and the supporters, recognising that, loved him right back. And maybe, in contrast to his dominance at the crease, they sensed the need to protect him a little too. It's doubtful a more popular man has ever represented the club.Given how the Somerset side of the late '70s and early '80s tended to struggle in the Championship, you could argue that the Trescothick period was the best in the club's history
"I really enjoyed my time as captain from 2010 to 2015," he said. "Although we didn't get over the line, being leader of the team of the club and guiding the youngsters is a nice place to be. The club really changed at the end of 2006. We brought in different people - the likes of Brian Rose, Andy Hurry and Justin Langer - and over the next 10-12 years we've been very strong in all competitions.
"You look back on photos and see how fresh-faced you were. And you hear the stats [many were read out at the presentation] and think what you used to be able to do. It's incredible. I've been blessed."
Indeed, he has. And while it may remain a source of regret that he was not able to play for longer at the highest level, he may reflect that from the rubble of his own breakdown came the foundations for a new start. Yes, Trescothick helped England win an Ashes series. But more than that, Trescothick helped make cricket a wiser and kinder sport. It's hard to imagine a sportsperson can achieve more than that.