August 21, 2009

Oh Tresco

The last two games of the Twenty20 Cup provided reaffirmation of what a talent the international game has lost in Marcus Trescothick

Saturday at Edgbaston may just have been the most disappointing of the seven Twenty20 finals days yet. Three one-sided matches were watched by an unusually muted crowd and dared to clash with the opening day of football's Premier League - a mysterious piece of scheduling apparently designed to drive county cricket's blue-riband event even deeper into the sports section. When Arsenal won 6-1 at Everton, any remaining bets on Sunday morning's front pages were off.

The domestic game has been here before, of course, but how different might things have been had Marcus Trescothick announced earlier in the week that he was available to play for England in the Ashes decider at The Oval after all? This is not to criticise Trescothick. Far from it: his inner turmoil is well documented, and no one would ever wish the "black wings" he described in his autobiography to plague his mind again.

But if there was a saving grace at Edgbaston last weekend, it was the sight of Trescothick taking new-ball bowlers apart as if… well, as if he was compiling that 180 in Johannesburg in 2004-05, an innings that remains scandalously under-represented in the story of the rise of Duncan Fletcher's England.

We miss you, Tres - and that is meant with affection, not reproach. Because on Saturday's evidence, there are few cleaner strikers of the ball in world cricket, let alone in England's brow-beaten top six. Witness the kickstart he gave Somerset's innings as they set off in pursuit of 146 to beat Kent in the second semi-final: four fours in the opening over off Amjad Khan - who disappeared to the outfield never to return - followed by a pick-up for six over midwicket off Simon Cook. Abandon in excelsis.

An extra-cover drive for four off Cook soon after - the feet still don't move, incidentally: thank goodness he never listened to the technical nerds - brought up Somerset's 50 in 4.4 overs. At the other end, a plainly admiring Justin Langer had 11. Trescothick's own half-century came up with a six over extra cover off Azhar Mahmood from his 27th ball. The whole thing had taken 23 minutes, in which time the game was already decided. Kevin Pietersen might have been able to score as quickly, but he could not have struck the ball so succulently, so often.

The innings - 56 off 32 balls in the end - invited a few responses: exhilaration at a batsman's ability to stand still and pick the ball off his toes as if he was brushing dry mud off his boots, relief that a stodgy day was being injected with some pizzazz, and regret that the international game has lost one of its most technically uncluttered talents.

Trescothick's innings in the Twenty20 Cup semi-final invited exhilaration at a batsman's ability to pick the ball off his toes as if he was brushing dry mud off his boots, relief that a stodgy day was being injected with some pizzazz, and regret that the international game has lost one of its most technically uncluttered talents

Perhaps the poignancy loomed largest. Is it inappropriate to wonder what might have been? Maybe, but the instinct is unavoidable. Trescothick is 33 now and has not played Test cricket for three years. Since his dedication to the game is Gooch-like, it's not fanciful to suggest he could carry on belting tons at Taunton until his late-30s. Had his England career remained uninterrupted, he would surely have gone past Gooch's Test tally of 8900 and some way beyond. Either way, it's sobering to think he still has more one-day international hundreds (12) than England's current squad put together (11).

In Saturday's final he was at it again, but this time in vain after Dwayne Smith's 59 off 26 balls had ensured the day wasn't going to be all about one man. Trescothick got going with a cut and a carve off Yasir Arafat, then launched Luke Wright over long-on for six. The next ball almost took Wright's head off on the way to the fence, before he lofted him into the crowd in the same over. In the next over James Kirtley was square-driven for six. Just think about that shot for a moment: square-drives usually go for one or four. And it was a measure of Trescothick's dominance that when he fell to Kirtley for 33 off 15 balls, Somerset's task immediately looked insurmountable.

In the press conferences after both games the superlatives elbowed each other aside. Rob Key, the losing Kent captain, described him as "one of the best players in the world, certainly in one-day cricket". Justin Langer, Trescothick's skipper at Somerset, did that little shake of the head and smile that indicates awe. Sussex's captain Mike Yardy was just relieved he lasted only 15 deliveries.

Yet Trescothick's stature this summer has been as evident in his absence as his presence. Alastair Cook's struggles at the top of the order with England in the first four Ashes Tests invariably cast minds back to the catalytic nature of Trescothick's batting four years ago: 90 at Edgbaston, 63 at Old Trafford, 65 at Trent Bridge - all on the first day of each game.

There is a fun about Trescothick's batting; there always has been. And that made his subsequent turmoil all the more heartbreaking. Saturday was a reminder of what might have been. But it was also affirmation that, despite his struggles, Trescothick remains an entertainer. And for that we should all be grateful.

Lawrence Booth is a cricket correspondent at the Guardian. He writes the acclaimed weekly cricket email The Spin for guardian.co.uk

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • springonion on August 21, 2009, 6:59 GMT

    Good to finally read an article not begging for a return to the test team, but instead observing Tresco's class an ability. Another fantastic season (Taunton's flat deck aside) and a joy to watch.

    A comment on this year's final day: as Booth points out, very disappointing. That said, that shouldn't deter the ECB from continuing Finals Day, it's generally a fun day out that represents everything Twenty20's about.

  • springonion on August 21, 2009, 6:59 GMT

    Good to finally read an article not begging for a return to the test team, but instead observing Tresco's class an ability. Another fantastic season (Taunton's flat deck aside) and a joy to watch.

    A comment on this year's final day: as Booth points out, very disappointing. That said, that shouldn't deter the ECB from continuing Finals Day, it's generally a fun day out that represents everything Twenty20's about.

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  • springonion on August 21, 2009, 6:59 GMT

    Good to finally read an article not begging for a return to the test team, but instead observing Tresco's class an ability. Another fantastic season (Taunton's flat deck aside) and a joy to watch.

    A comment on this year's final day: as Booth points out, very disappointing. That said, that shouldn't deter the ECB from continuing Finals Day, it's generally a fun day out that represents everything Twenty20's about.