I suppose it's pathetic for a grown man to have a hero. Boyhood heroes, oh, they're fine, and no doubt it's perfectly normal for some of that intense reverence to linger on, a little, into adulthood. This is different. My views haven't dimmed a bit. Certainly on the field I feel quite certain that there is no one on earth I would rather be than Marcus Trescothick. I want to bat like him. I want to catch like him. Christ, I even want to bowl like him. But the thing is, off the field, I wish I was more like him too. To paraphrase the Twelfth Man, would I turn for him? Quite possibly.
Let me explain.
Reason #1: He did it, though few of us thought he would.
Let's start by talking about Trescothick the batsman. No, let's start by talking about a shot Trescothick the batsman played in Taunton, in 1997. Somerset were playing the visiting Australians. Glenn McGrath glided in, oh-so-smoothly, as he did on the TV, and bowled one of those classic McGrath, fractionally-back-of-a-length-and-slightly-quicker-than-expected balls we'd seen all summer. We knew the script: the batsman (usually Mike Atherton), slightly squared up and not quite on top of the bounce, would edge it. Sometimes it would be a thin one straight through to the keeper, sometimes it would plop into the hands of Mark Waugh or Shane Warne.
Except that's not what happened. Trescothick propped forward, ever so slightly - much like all the other victims did - and then simply lashed it through midwicket for four. I suppose you could call it a front-foot pull, but that would imply the shot was in the coaching manual. It was a mow - a beautifully balanced, wonderfully-timed mow. There was a slight pause, as the implications of what he'd just done set in, then everyone in my stand went ballistic. One man shouted out to Steve Waugh, at square leg: 'Hey, Steve, smile and the world smiles with you!'. Waugh flicked a V-sign at us.
It's hard to believe that at the time, there was a very real question over whether Trescothick would make it as a player at all. It sounds ridiculous, but he truly was one innings away from never having a professional career. In his book, there's an amusing description of said innings:
...on two, the West Indies paceman Winston Benjamin sent down another very quick ball, I fended it off and waited for Tony Middleton, under the lid at short leg, to bring this latest epic innings to a close. They say your whole life flashes before you in the instant you buy the farm; even as the ball was travelling towards Middleton...with the roar of celebration beginning to gurgle up from the pit of Benjamin's stomach, I had more than enough time to work out: 1+3+6+0+4+0+0+7+2=23, and 23 divided by nine = not enough (2.55 recurring, in fact).
As he points out, Somerset were paying him £250 a run at that point. But Middleton dropped him. He made 81, and the rest is history. Such are the margins involved.
I'd learned about Trescothick when he was captain of England U19s, for whom he'd made remarkable scores. But from the age of 19 to 24, he struggled horribly. I remember watching another game at Taunton from mid off, and seeing him edge a ball from a particularly pedestrian Hampshire seamer whose name escapes me. It was a horrible shot - the shot of a tailender, standing stock still, and groping like a man batting in the dark outside off stump. He seemed to do everything wrong. But as his career progressed, and I watched him more and more, the clearer it became that he actually had a very good technique. And am I ever glad I noticed.
Reason #2: He saved my batting
Aged 16, I had a massive, massive problem with a particular ball - the inswinger from right arm over the wicket. If any left hander tells you they're not worried by that ball, they're lying - if the bowler can bowl that, then every mode of dismissal is open. Bowled or lbw if the movement beats you. Caught behind if you're playing for it and beat yourself. This wasn't just a slight technical flaw - it was a problem to the extent that I wanted to stop playing the game. From being a good district level colt on the fringes of the county squad I'd become a no-hoper. For an entire season, it seemed to be the only ball I faced. I barely got into double figures. Against one team I went in at three, was bowled by a no-ball, then bowled by the next one. The captain told me I was a disgrace, and I was. In the nets I put a bet on with my mate - £1 for each wicket we took against each other. After two sessions I was £8 down, all of them bowled.
I was getting bowled partly because I'd spent half the season getting out LBW - I'd plant my front foot across, looking for the cover drive, and the next thing I knew I was trapped, bang in line with off stump. So I decided the answer was to pre-empt the movement, and hit with it, through the leg side. Maybe that works for players with a better eye. Not me. I scored even fewer. This was supposed to be the season I broke into the school firsts. Instead I was relying on my bowling to keep me in the seconds, and anyone who's seen that would understand my place wasn't what you'd call secure.
The annoying thing is that if you play in England and bat up the order, you face this ball all the time. The natural side-on, right arm action invariably brings the ball into the left hander. If you play anywhere other than England or New Zealand, unless you're an opener, you're unlikely to face this ball all that much - the degree of swing is much less severe and the balls lose their shine quicker.
And that means your whole game can change. If the right arm over bowler is sending everything across you - or at least isn't likely to beat you with the movement - then suddenly the only likely mode of dismissal is caught behind - and that's a far less exact science than bowled. You can just play the ball on length all the time and pick off anything that lands outside leg. If they come round the wicket it's so easy to get outside off stump that again, bowled or lbw is almost out of the equation and you can just keep picking them off through the leg side. This is why time and again - and Hoggard vs Hayden is the classic example, or Caddick vs the West Indies - you'll see otherwise talented left handed batsmen really struggling in Tests here against that ball. It's a different challenge to any other.
People often ask if left handers have an advantage over right handers. I think they do - but only if the ball isn't swinging. It's why the mirror opposite - the left armer who swings it in - has been so successful even if they're not express, nor particularly likely to extract bounce. Chaminda Vaas is the classic example, Ryan Sidebottom for a time is another, and I don't think Zaheer Khan would be playing for India if he was right handed.
Two things sorted me out. The first was a coach changing my grip so my swing came more towards mid-on than midwicket. The second was copying Marcus Trescothick. Yes, he didn't move his feet much outside off. But he actually had a very sound technique for batting in England. That lack of movement meant he was never going to get trapped LBW by the inswinger. His whole technique, really, is based around keeping that ball out. From a two-leg guard his default position is a stride down the line of middle with the bat following down middle and off. If the ball carries on its trajectory and holds its line it goes harmlessly past the edge. He talks little about technique in his book, other than to confirm this - he bases his game around knowing where off stump is, and the reason he was struggling was simply the fact that despite this awareness, he was too tempted by balls outside off, which was an easy problem to solve (he went in the nets and if he nicked one he had to wait for two hours for another bat).
He says one otherwise unremarkable leave in the nets told him everything he knew: he'd cracked it. In my own small way, I had the same experience - a punched on-drive for four against a club side off that very inswinger, a shot that came out of nowhere and which I'd never dreamed was in my repertoire. I honestly don't know if I'd still be playing today had it not happened.
Reason #3: Talent
But that's technique - it can only take you so far. All it did for me was stop me scoring ducks against other schoolboys. What Trescothick has on top of this is pure, God-given talent. Let me describe another shot I saw him play, this time at Lord's.
Neil Carter, the South-African born bowler who on his day is pretty lightning, steams in from the Pavilion End and bowls Trescothick a very fast long half-volley. Trescothick leans into a cover drive, and pings it for four. The ball scorches towards us, fizzing across the turf, directly towards the part of the Mound Stand in which I'm sitting. It skips on the rope, and flies up. For a second a couple of people in the crowd make an 'ooh' sound, in anticipation of the thing buzzing straight into them and possibly knocking their teeth out. Instead it flies a little lower and cracks into the wall in front of our legs, springing back a full 15 yards onto the field of play.
I reckon the average club player could hit the ball that hard. If you told them you were going to bowl a really, really slow ball outside leg stump that they could swing at, and throw their entire body weight into, they could probably get it moving off the bat that quickly. Maybe. But a cover drive? No chance. Not only must you be phenomenally strong to hit it that hard - you have to be utterly committed to belting the ball for four. None of this deliberately timing it nonsense - that comes with balance and technique - just 'That's a half volley, therefore it must be given the kitchen sink'.
I can't stress enough how much of a difference that style made to the England team he joined. For years Atherton had doggedly seen out the opening bowlers in the first hour. This is not intended to be a derogatory remark. In 92, when I first seriously started watching the game, it was Wasim and Waqar. In 93, Hughes and Reiffel. In 94, Cairns and Nash followed by Donald and Matthews. In 95, it was Ambrose and Walsh, and in 96 it was Srinath and Prasad. Things were a little easier when Trescothick joined - but not much. If there's a single player who changed the approach of our batsmen - while most cite Pietersen in this regard - I truly believe it's him. In Edgbaston '05 with England 1-0 down, he didn't just play us back into the series: he smashed us back into it. He didn't just give us belief: he put doubt in the oppositions' minds.
In this innings, he says, he was listening to Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' in his head. Every time he played it, he says he saw the ball in slow motion - and 'how do you bowl to someone in a different time zone?'
I just don't think that's something you can master with practise.
Reason #4: Temperament
Here's the sad bit. What's that? Oh. Well anyway, I wish I was more like him. Not that I'd want to be him, exactly - one thing that comes through particularly strongly from reading his autobiography is that, really, he's never had any experience of anything other than cricket in his entire life.
But the thing that shines through is what a fundamentally decent bloke he is. It's much rarer than you might think. I'm certainly not. I think I'd be more likely to hook Shoaib Akhtar for six than write the book he did, for a start.
It's not a book about cricket, really. Cricket takes up the first 150 or so pages, and at first he has the time to analyse players and matches and himself - which he does wittily and intelligently. But once he's on the international treadmill match follows match follows match follows tour follows match follows tour and....it's just dull, really. The 2005 Ashes are given slightly less coverage than the 2006 tour to Pakistan.
But he's just paving the way for the second half of the book. Suddenly you realise that his story isn't about cricket at all. It's about the conditions that can breed mental illness, and how it can destroy a life.
If you ever wished you played for England, consider the description of him dosed up on sleeping tablets, in front of his laptop in his hotel room in India, watching his house on the CCTV feed he's set up for himself, observing his father-in-law fall off a step ladder, smash his head on the patio and wind up in intensive care, over and over again.
Consider, if you will, him reading cricket blogs online as the rumours circulate regarding his departure from England:
Woody wrote: 'I reckon I have the real truth right here and it comes from a friend of mine who works in a barbers. One day Darren Gough strolled in for a haircut and announced tht (sic) the real reason Tres isn't playing for England is because Michael Vaughan had slept with his wife. Thts (sic) genuine word from inside of the england (sic) team itself, Goughy does not lie.'
Anonymous wrote: 'I shouldn't come on here and say this but tresco's mrs was sh**ing Kevin Shine. Shine was coach at somerset (sic) and got to know resco's (sic) and when he was away with England Shine used to get friendly...'
So there you have it, and a warm thank you to 'Anonymous' for clearing up the mystery and to the rest of your mates for your concern and respect.
Consider him on the phone to his wife, her suffering with post-natal depression, begging him to come home, and him refusing to do so, unsure of whether he should be letting down his country or her, and months later, realising he's made the wrong choice.
Consider his description of the first breakdown:
When I had a terrible thought about what might have happened back home, to Hayley (his wife) or Ellie (his daughter), it would take me ages to force myself to realise it hadn't happened at all. And then another would come and as hard as I tried to push it out of my mind, it would take over. The thoughts were no longer inanimate. They were things, beings, beasts, bastards, and now they attacked in waves, one after another, each one worse than before. 'Oh God. Please, make it stop. Oh God, please make it stop.' Sometimes, inside the bed with the covers pulled tightly over my head, I would try and hide from the thoughts. Them, sometimes out of bed, almost blind with fear, I tried to run from them. Sometimes, I would stand stock still and imagine I could fight the fear with my bare hands.
Consider that, and ask yourself, do you think you could be absolutely, unequivocally that honest about all that? I'm not sure I could.
The problem, I think, is that Trescothick is just a well-brought-up, mild-mannered man, and that doesn't go with the demands of international sport, however talented you may be. For instance, he discusses a column Shane Warne wrote prior to the '05 Ashes about how he should be dropped from the team because oppositions had worked out to bowl at him. Now I remember reading this, and laughing out loud: Trescothick was hammering Test bowlers everywhere. It was just - as he says - 'typical Warne bullshit'. But he doesn't find it very funny at all. To him, you don't jeopardise a fellow professional's career, even to the mildest extent. It's wrong, and that's that. Likewise, Gus Fraser's banter on the field is fine (his sledging seems to be something every England player of the time remembers), but when an older player tells a younger batsman he's 'crap', that's bullying, and Trescothick can't be having that. He has a keen sense of what's right and what's wrong, and that's fine, until you're put in a position like the one he was in on tour - not letting the team down, clearly the right thing to do, but then so's not letting your family down.
At the end of the book he pleads with the administrators not to let other players go through what he did. Just another voice in the maelstrom.
I'm glad he ended his England career. He returned from the airport after one tour and his daughter didn't know who he was. He deserves better than that. I'm glad he's playing for Somerset. The England fans appreciated him, but the Somerset fans - well, they love him. I was at the CB40 final last year and a couple of Warwickshire fans started some moronic chants about Vaughan (this time) fucking his wife. There must have been 500 of them in the stand and about five Somerset fans, one of whom went straight to the stewards and got them chucked out.
And funnily enough despite him obviously doing it in front of the whole stand, no one took him to task. They knew those guys had overstepped the mark, and I think, deep down, they knew what Marcus Trescothick stands for. He's the guy all of us want to be.