The Ashes, 2006-07 November 14, 2006

Trescothick tires of the treadmill

A career in cricket is the ultimate life in a goldfish bowl. For six or seven hours a day, your soul is bared to all and sundry, scrutinised and analysed to an extent that is matched by no other sport

Marcus Trescothick: touring life has taken its toll © Getty Images
A career in cricket is the ultimate life in a goldfish bowl. For six or seven hours a day, your soul is bared to all and sundry, scrutinised and analysed to an extent that is matched by no other sport. At the very highest level, the mindgames - mental disintegration, as Steve Waugh famously dubbed it - can be all-consuming. A timely sledge here, an untimely dismissal there. And no place to hide when the crowds and the cameras start to get on your case.

Contrary to popular perception, international cricket is not a glamorous lifestyle. The demands of the modern calendar have sucked almost all the spontaneity out of its participants. When it's not a match, it's a training session. When it's not a training session, it's another internal flight. And when it's not an internal flight, it's another bout of navel-gazing in another soulless hotel.

Writing for Cricinfo in his Champions Trophy diaries, the West Indian opener and bon viveur Chris Gayle said, without irony, that the highlights of his days were "chillin' in the hallways" with his equally bored team-mates. No wonder Trescothick admitted in the early weeks of this tour that he had "fallen out of love with the game". But if there was any lingering doubt that Trescothick has a terrible and debilitating problem, today's news has quashed the sceptics once and for all.

The Ashes is everything to this England side - that much is apparent from their indifference towards all other contests - and with a World Cup coming up in four months' time as well, even the most wavering professional would surely be expected to rouse their interest for one big final push. Not Trescothick though. He turns 31 on Christmas Day, and with a young daughter, Ellie Louise, to think about as he sits alone in his hotel-room, he seems to have switched off what little interest he still retained in the international game. Why was he allowed to tour in the first place? The questions are sure to be asked of the ECB, even as they prepare their latest smokescreen.

This case brings to mind the struggles that Graham Thorpe went through in a near-identical scenario four years ago. Like Trescothick, Thorpe's woes began in India, when he flew home ahead of the second Test in a bid to salvage his crumbling marriage, and continued through a dire English summer that reached its nadir in a desperate performance against India at Lord's. After retiring from one-dayers and opting out of the rest of the series, Thorpe initially declared himself available for the Ashes, but then back-tracked before the plane had even lifted off.

Thorpe, like Trescothick, had been one of England's most committed tourists until the moment he snapped, and made ten consecutive tours for the Test and A team before opting out of the South Africa series in 1999-2000. He is now a coach at New South Wales and understands better than anyone the difficulties that cricketers face in the modern game. "The moment you say I am struggling to concentrate because of 'X', the way the media is you are going to throw more pressure on yourself," he said last week. "[Trescothick] has to be able to deal with it."

But he hasn't dealt with it. Who knows what was being murmured from the slip cordon during those two brief innings at Canberra and Sydney? What abuse was being hurled from the stands, along with the racial slurs that have (so far) been shrugged off by Monty Panesar. Whatever he's encountered in the warm-ups, you can bet that worse would have followed once Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath got stuck in at Brisbane. That is not to criticise Australia's attitude to the game, incidentally. Test cricket is a test of mental technique as much as physical, and Trescothick's undoubted successes at the highest level - nearly 6000 runs including 14 hundreds - are proof that his mindset has held together better and longer than most.

But when your mental game becomes so fragile - whether you've lost your nerve against the pacemen or lost your appetite for the battle - there's no amount of net practice or gym work that can get you back to match fitness. England's short-term loss may yet be to their long-term advantage - as perhaps it was when the veteran Thorpe was himself jettisoned in favour of younger, hungrier campaigners at the start of the 2005 Ashes. But if, as is widely being assumed, Trescothick has played his final role on an England tour, what a sad way for a fine career to peter out.

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Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo