James Lawton: Selection was a risky roll of the dice that has backfired on England

The psychological cost of the relapse is clearly immense
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The Independent Online

Marcus Trescothick's flight home before a single ball is sent down in the Ashes series that has come to challenge the fibre and will of English cricket is shocking at every level.

In personal terms the call can only be one of compassion. Trescothick for so long was no fragile vessel, likely to shatter at the first serious investigation of his competitive character. At 31, he should be at his peak, a weathered pro boasting 5,825 runs in 76 Tests at an average of 43.79. The benchmark average of a significant Test career has, after all, always been set at 40, a fact that could only have accentuated the pain of the Somerset opener's lonely, angst-filled journey home from Sydney.

Yet if sympathy for a man who was forced to retreat from India and its teeming pressures last winter - and was then advised that he had not recovered sufficiently from a stress-related illness to take part in the recent Champions Trophy in the same country - has to run deep, there is also bound to be another reaction.

It was one merely hinted at by English cricket's ultimate swashbuckling and apparently carefree hero, Ian Botham, yesterday when he said that plunging Trescothick back in the cockpit of Ashes cricket with such slender reorientation always carried high risk.

In fact, some would say that it was one of the most desperate rolls of the dice ever seen at the highest level of world sport.

Supporting evidence for this theory was provided yesterday with re-runs of Trescothick's recent first high-profile television interview since he emerged from his illness - and the mystery that cloaked his earlier flight home from the subcontinent.

Trescothick claimed that he was eager for the Ashes battle, relishing the prospect of building on his success in the summer of 2005, when England won back the prized urnand he made the major contribution of 431 runs. But then there was some hesitation in his voice, and on one occasion he felt obliged to repeat himself.

He also said of the unfolding challenge in Australia: "We will cop it, that's for sure, from the home crowds, the media and an intensely focused opposition."

Focused opposition? That was euphemistic shorthand for the most accomplished and often vicious sledgers in cricket. Shane Warne did give a public assurance that there would be no attempt to apply special pressure to Trescothick, which was a warming thought before the first shot had been fired, but not something to convince old warriors like Botham.

The consensus was that when the pressure was on the kid gloves would have been casually tossed aside. This, it was pointed out, was the historically ferocious series that once threatened to break up the old Empire when the England captain, Douglas Jardine, ordered his fast bowler Harold Larwood to attack the bodies of key Australian batsmen such as Don Bradman. Such memories are fused into Australian blood and were not likely to be suppressed for too long when a potential mental weakness was there to be exploited - especially when the obligation, after nearly two decades of success, was to win back the Ashes.

At its very highest, the selection of Trescothick was a calculated risk as it ignored certain basic sporting realities. The most important of these is that playing world-class sport successfully is almost always the result of an ability to suppress the pressures of personal life and for a short but intense time commit everything to the challenge of producing your best.

In terms of his status as a cornerstone of the England team, Trescothick failed catastrophically to do this in India and months later he was deemed by his consultant not to be ready for the relatively low key challenge of the Champions Trophy.

Projecting that vulnerability, so quickly, into the maelstrom of an Ashes series can now be seen as reckless to the point of irresponsibility.

Despite the impressive century of Kevin Pietersen this week in the warm-up game against New South Wales, and the revival of the form of the paceman James Anderson, the psychological cost of Trescothick's relapse is clearly immense. For the moment, though, this particular accountancy is bound to sound heartless. England may just recover from the disaster. There is no such guarantee for the man on whom England gambled so wildly - and lost.

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