Of all England players in the past 10 years Marcus Trescothick is the one who loves the game most. Just playing, watching, talking cricket for its own sake. He is the sort who gets misty-eyed about it. You could probably make that 50 years, or 100 years.
Trescothick is steeped in it. He was brought up in a cricket family, the way some people are brought up in military families. His dad played for Somerset II, his uncle was a club cricketer. Down in Keynsham, young Marcus quickly took up the family tradition.
It is all the more perplexing then that the game of which he is so fond and which made him a handsome living as well as a national hero, has come to bedevil him so. Of course, it was devastating news when he left England's Ashes tour yesterday but it was not truly surprising.
Trescothick, it transpired, had not recovered from the stress-related illness which was diagnosed during the summer (while he still managed to play international cricket), but first apparently manifested itself during the tour of India in March when he left for home in the middle of a warm-up match.
Many reasons and explanations have been put forward: a viral illness he picked up in India which exacerbated other problems, a severe accident suffered by his father-in-law during the first tour of last winter to Pakistan (from which, happily, his father-in-law recovered), the birth of the Trescothicks' first child early last September. All doubtless contributed to his state of mind.
But the truth is it had been a long time coming. Trescothick is a country lad and proud of it and maybe you can take the boy out of Keynsham without taking Keynsham out of the boy. Trescothick himself gave a hint of what might be happening to him when he gave an interview to your correspondent before the tour of South Africa two years ago.
"Touring I do find difficult because you're away living in hotels," he said. "At times it gets me down, gets on top of me. To be honest I've always had problems being away from home all my life. From being at school, I suffered from really bad homesickness, really struggled to go away."
There was more as Trescothick indulged in a piece of soul-searching that foretold what was to come. "If I suddenly feel I can't do it, then I can't do it. I adore playing cricket - I'm not going to give it away easily. You go through periods when it gets really tough."
On that tour, he seemed to overcome his demons with two centuries, but the evidence of his general state of mind on tour is enshrined in the statistics. Playing Test cricket in England, his batting average is 51.66, away it is 36.20. It was an extraordinary leap of faith by the selectors to pick him for this Australian tour. Suffering the after-effects of India he struggled through the domestic international season despite a comeback Lord's century against Sri Lanka. It was announced that he would miss the Champions Trophy in India, but that his treatment would be complete by the time of the Ashes tour.
Stress and mental illnesses are difficult enough for trained medical men to diagnose and treat without laymen getting involved. None the less it seemed odd that he would not be fit one week for India but would be fit the next for Australia as though stress had a finite supply. Indeed, jokes in poor taste were made about the differences in comfort levels for an Englishman touring India and touring Australia.
But Trescothick talked buoyantly and the England coaching staff did likewise. In some ways, the wish was father to the thought. England knew that they needed him. The game plan of taking the attack to Australia was based largely on Trescothick's swashbuckling method.
Although he has not made a hundred against Australia (and now may never) the rip-roaring 90 he made at Edgbaston last summer was a tipping point in the series. It spoke volumes. You might be the best team in the world, it seemed to say, but you aren't going to bully us.
Without him, England are different. They will presumably resort to the fledgling and hugely talented Alastair Cook. He cannot be expected to deal with the new ball the way Trescothick did. On the other hand, he may be more proficient against its early swing.
In the end, Trescothick has probably been undone by what he loved and questions will once more be asked about the amount of international cricket the modern professional is expected to play and what cricket should do.
For now, the mind has a memory of Trescothick's first Test hundred in 2001, a selfless, atypical innings on a slow, low turner in Galle. The three figures reached, he turned and waved his bat at a particular section of the crowd. They were his old chums from Keynsham.
Stephen Brenkley is the Cricket Correspondent for the Independent on Sunday
Home runs come easier
Marcus Trescothick has made 76 Test appearances for England, scoring 5,825 runs at an average of 43.79, with 14 centuries. However, he is more productive at home:
Home 3,472 @ 51.66 in 43 Tests (highest score 219).
Away 2,353 @ 36.20 in 33 Tests (highest score 193).Reuse content