October 16, 2009

Applaud Trescothick's effort, don't condemn the failure

Through his stress-related illness, Trescothick has focussed on his family, Somerset included. It was for them that he agreed to fly to India

Marcus Trescothick did his utmost to overcome the demons that have plagued the latter years of his career, but in the end, the expectation proved too great. Driven by loyalty to his county colleagues at Somerset, he travelled back to India - the scene of his breakdown on England's tour in February 2006 - and for two personally uneventful matches of the Champions League Twenty20, everything seemed to be well within his mindset.

But all it took was a quick flutter of the "black wings", as he evocatively described them in last year's award-winning autobiography, and an end to the experiment was swiftly called. Somerset's planning and reaction cannot be faulted - they did everything in their power to ease Trescothick's anxieties, and his wife Hayley was by his side throughout the trip. But as soon as the merest hint of a doubt set in, there was not even a heartbeat's hesitation from the management.

With the blessing of Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket, Trescothick was rushed onto the first flight home, even though his imperious talents at the top of the order were to be sorely missed in the club's subsequent defeat to the Eagles. The welfare of their player of the year, and their newly appointed captain for 2010, was of far greater importance than the fleeting (if lucrative) glory on offer in a strange and unfamiliar campaign, and in an era supposedly ruled by the bottom line that is somewhat touching.

A team of doctors and psychotherapists have worked with Trescothick in the years since his stress-related illness first emerged into the public domain, and theirs are the only opinions that hold any sway in the decisions taken by the club and the player. Nevertheless, only the stoniest heart can fail to sympathise with a man who gave his all to England for five extraordinarily successful years from his debut in 2000, only to be ground down, in the end, by the sheer futility of a life in the sporting spotlight.

Mental illnesses manifest themselves in many ways, but the afflicted often talk of hearing hostile and controlling voices that commentate on everything that they say and do. In the case of an elite sportsman, however, those voices are not only real, they exist on a multitude of platforms - in the media, in the pubs, on the streets, and latterly, in the blogosphere. Given that Trescothick fled his last two England tours in tears, and failed even to board the plane on his last attempt to play overseas in 2008, the expectation of another breakdown can only have exacerbated the pressure he put upon himself.

Sure enough, only minutes after the news of his withdrawal had been posted on Somerset's website last night, those voices broke into a chorus of cackling criticism. "Pathetic sausage-munching ****er" was one pithily sympathetic opinion that popped up on Twitter. His trip turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "I know the risks and I know what can happen when it goes wrong," he had said before the tournament, "but I can only try." Try he most certainly did, but very sadly, he failed.

It would be wrong to presume a root cause for Trescothick's depression, but all the same, it is not an offence to empathise, and back in 2005, during England's tour of Pakistan, an incident occurred in the midst of a chain of events that would lead even the most well-balanced individual to question his or her priorities, let alone a character such as Trescothick, who by his own admission had already shown signs in his young life of obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

England embarked on that tour of Pakistan as the form team in world cricket - six series wins in a row and the Ashes in the bag to boot. But when Michael Vaughan's knee gave way in the days before the first Test in Multan, it was Trescothick who was handed the honour of leading the side into a new era. As it happens, he consulted with his wife before accepting the appointment - it would later transpire she was suffering from post-natal depression - but midway through the match that hidden pressure was exacerbated by a horrible accident at their family home.

Trescothick's father-in-law, John Rowse, who had come round to fix some tiles on the roof, fell 40 feet off a ladder and lay on the ground unaided for several hours. The incident, which Trescothick watched over and over again in the hours that followed, thanks to a CCTV link-up to his mobile phone, left Rowse in a critical condition in hospital, and Trescothick in the ultimate quandary.

He was leading his country in perhaps the most remote Test venue in the world - certainly it could not have been further removed from the fervent Ashes atmosphere, and it just so happened that he was 135 not out, and inching his side into the ascendancy. It was the sporting equivalent of Sophie's Choice, and condemnation awaited, no matter what course of action he took. After much agonising he put his job before his family, and - call it what you like - something resembling karma kicked in with a vengeance.

Trescothick duly missed out on a double-century, falling for 193 in the first innings, and England, in a stunning finale to the contest, were skittled for 175 second time around to lose by 22 runs. To all intents and purposes, the series was lost then and there, and so too was Trescothick, who had stayed against his better judgment, and to what avail? He limped through the next two matches, totalling 98 runs in four innings in Faisalabad and Lahore, and never again featured in an overseas Test.

Only minutes after the news of his withdrawal had been posted on Somerset's website last night, those voices broke into a chorus of cackling criticism. "Pathetic sausage-munching ****er" was one pithily sympathetic opinion that popped up on Twitter. His trip turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "I know the risks and I know what can happen when it goes wrong," he had said before the tournament, "but I can only try."

"I was devastated," Trescothick wrote in his book. "Though I tried to put a brave face on things in the captain's press conference afterwards, trotting out all the required lines about 'character', 'sticking together', 'team spirit', etc, the beer in Vaughan's room before we departed tasted especially flat. My father-in-law was lying in the intensive care unit at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. Hayley was pleading with me to come home. I had captained the side, scored one of my best-ever hundreds, and we had lost."

With that episode etched on his memory, it's little wonder he's felt a shiver on each subsequent occasion he's been away from home. In the very first chapter of his autobiography, Trescothick wrote of the awful separation anxiety that engulfed him at Heathrow Airport in March 2008, when he attempted to fly to Dubai for Somerset's pre-season tour, but couldn't bear the thought of being away from his young daughters, Ellie and Millie, even for 12 days.

Family has been Trescothick's overriding priority since that winter, and who can condemn him for that? By extension, that family includes the county that has guided his fortunes since his teenage days, and it was for them, more than for him, that he agreed to fly to India this month to partake in a potentially transmogrative tournament. He should be applauded for trying, but he doesn't deserve to be condemned for failing.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ramakrishnan on October 19, 2009, 13:57 GMT

    It takes guts to accept that you have a serious stress related illness in a game where people talk about mental toughness, mental disintegration, etc..etc... One should applaud Trescothick for being so brave in accepting his situation, being honest about it and trying to cope up with it in the best possible manner. For those, who try to vilify him, how many of us have the guts to speak out about our inner most fears????

  • StJohn on October 19, 2009, 13:18 GMT

    I don't agree with JGG32's comments: this is a blog/comments area, so I think freedom of expression (within certain boundaries) is both fine and necessary. Similarly, samuir seems a little presumptuous when saying "not that you or anyone else writing here could possibly comment". How do you presume to know what anyone else writing here has or hasn't been through? I think there is a valid argument that, to an extent, with mild depression you can choose to try to push through it rather than to succumb. And there are some odd inconsistencies in Trescothick's case. For example, does he feel the same way when travelling abroad for a family holiday? If his condition is that serious, how can he play at all? After all, captaining Somerset can't be entirely pressure or spotlight-free. But at the end of the day, it is a purely subjective and personal matter and nobody can or should criticise him for exercising a choice on the basis of how he alone feels.

  • rhys on October 19, 2009, 9:43 GMT

    Having the comments that have followed a pretty sensitive piece of journalism I feel that some posters should be ashamed of themselves. Who are you to try and second guess what another human being is feeling? Who are you to say who is strong and who is weak? And who are you to say whether another persons priorities are wrong or right? I urge you to think about these things, as after all cricketers are only human. How would you like it if someone was to write such speculations about you?

  • uthaman on October 19, 2009, 3:21 GMT

    Very talented cricketer. Not a great role model though.

  • Amahl on October 19, 2009, 0:38 GMT

    He should most certainly be applauded for his sincere efforts, I dont think any of us can empathise with him but the effort required from his part to overcome his apprehension and take the step to travel overseas was really commendable. Unfortunately certain events can occur at the wrong times spurring mental scarring, and I feel for Marcus considering what he had to go through on England's tour of Pakistan 4 years ago. International cricket has nonetheless lost a great talent in this man, not least identified by his stupendous form displayed in last year's season for Somerset. It is a real shame but such is life, if he is enjoying his cricket playing at county level, then that is the only thing that matters. I only wish him all the best.

  • Stewart on October 18, 2009, 17:41 GMT

    Rastus, it is you who is being ridiculous. Yes, perhaps the 'bravery' aspect is overplayed - most people with a mental illness want understanding rather than pity or a condescending admiration - but how much Trescothick earns and what he does (or anyone else does) for a job are irrelevant. It is not about how objectively 'hard' one's life is (not that you or anyone else writing here could possibly comment). Depression is a mental illness that can strike anyone in any situation; it is not cricket that has caused the illness, Trescothick just happens to be a cricketer that suffers from depression (not 'stress' and not 'homesickness'). If there is bravery, it is in his attempts to go on regardless and to do what is expected of him. I am frankly appalled by those who judge without understanding what others go through.

  • Azhar on October 18, 2009, 16:47 GMT

    Although I can understand stress-related illness, I disagree with Andrew Miller's overall assessment. It is interesting that although Terscothick has been treated by a team of health care professionals and is traveling with his family, he still has recurrence of his symptoms. It appears that his mystery ailment flares up only when the word India or Pakistan comes up. I am sure while traveling all over England for Somerset's away games he does not lug his wife and children along. One can make up all sorts of medical excuses, but the reality is that he is a professional English cricketer who does not like to travel to the sub-continent. My advice would be to continue playing English cricket and quit being a "hero" by trying to "overcome" some non-medical "demons".

  • Jon on October 18, 2009, 9:14 GMT

    I think people are being a bit ridiculous here. Ok so he shouldn't be vilified for having a mental illness but he also shouldn't be 'applauded' for trying to do his job that he gets paid a vast sum of money to perform. People nowadays seem a little soft. We have thousands of soldiers risking their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan They don't see their families for months at a time and do the job without whining and for very little reward.

  • Ramakrishnan on October 18, 2009, 1:32 GMT

    StaniArmy's views are perfect.. There is nothing others can do anything to help Marcus Trescothick in the situation. May be, he would find a permanent remedy to his stress-related illness after he retires from the game. I am reminded of the Pakistan player - Zaheer Abbas who made mincemeat of the English bowlers during his various encounters in England......but the same Zaheer was afflicted by a strange patch during one of his subsequent tours to India when he used to be bowled by Roger Binny, the Indian medium pacer for single digit scores.

  • Daniel on October 18, 2009, 0:46 GMT

    @mk49_van: It is insensitive comments like this that people like us who DO have mental illness have to deal with every day. This article doesn't try to sugar-coat the situation, it even uses the term "mental illness". Why should he retire? As a fellow sufferer I thank Marcus Trescothick for doing his best to stay in the workforce (in his case, the cricket field) and not be condemned to the scrapheap like I have been by my employers.

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