A year ago, Marcus Trescothick calmly walked out in front of 110,000 clamouring fans at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, and scored a scintillating century. Tomorrow, in the more sedate confines of the Bellerive Oval, Hobart, he will be fretting about where his next run might come from.
The days of wine and roses, with which he was not so long ago so intimately acquainted, have dissolved before his eyes into ditchwater and weeds. As England flew to Tasmania yesterday for their VB Series match against Australia, now fully in one-day mode, Trescothick reflected on the transformation in his fortunes.
"There's nothing better than doing well and scoring runs," he said. "And when you know you haven't done it for a while you start to get depressed in yourself, as I am at the moment. I know I'm probably adding to the pressure."
For the first time in his international career, the boy who was plucked from the shires in one of the great selectorial hunches, is struggling. But if England are to have a prayer in the rest of this event, and in the World Cup immediately following, they need Trescothick in full, mighty flow. Sri Lanka's victory over Australia in Sydney yesterday in the triangular, one-day tournament, a genuine shock, has changed the course of affairs. England will need to be at their best, and even that may not be good enough.
"I've been working harder and harder, sometimes too hard I think," he said in a refreshingly candid assessment of his state of play. "That's when it becomes a problem, when you're practising hard and thinking hard about it for the rest of the day as well; suddenly, your mind is going round and round."
Before Michael Vaughan ascended to within touching distance of greatness, Trescothick had become England's talisman. But Vaughan has negligible international limited-overs experience; Trescothick has made four hundreds.
Trescothick had a disappointing Ashes series, scoring 262 runs in 10 innings, and could not shed his poor form in the first part of the triangular tournament. His form and his confidence have been mislaid. He is still playing those violently cavalier shots but with different results.
"I know I can do it, it's just a case of getting a few things right," insisted Trescothick. "I don't want to go into it too much, it's a very personal thing. If there is something I'm changing, I don't want people to know about it. It's nothing major, I'm not going to revamp the way I play."
The bucolic boy from Somerset has always played in an unconventional opener's way. Not for Trescothick such orthodoxies as foot movement and elbow high over the ball. He has based his game on knowing the whereabouts of his off-stump, enabling him to leave the ball when necessary, and in between times whacking it mercilessly.
The international treadmill of game after game, with little time for proper, intense practice, has made it difficult for him to eradicate flaws. "I've been through periods longer than this without scoring runs," he said. "That didn't mean as much to me as this. You do come through, it's just a case of believing it; sometimes it's hard when you're in the middle of it. Everyone else has got runs around you and you think: 'I'm the only one not doing well'."
The VB Series may not be among the main prizes England are seeking this winter, but its significance should not be underestimated. Win it, or make a fist of the finals, and they will go to southern Africa for the World Cup with pride and belief high; lose, or perform wretchedly with what amounts to a makeshift side, and they can expect a World Cup to rank alongside their experiences on the Australian tour.
Trescothick, like others, is beginning to suspect that Australia are vulnerable. They may be the best side on the planet at both forms of the game, but they are desperate to show they can win without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. It is not an easy task, and their desire is undermining their game. The additional loss of Jason Gillespie has compounded their desperation.
"I think you could see the difference in that last Test, with 800 wickets out of their side," said Trescothick. "They've lost three now. Don't get me wrong, the guys coming in are useful cricketers, but they're not of the same calibre. It's a chance for all of us. I'm sure beating them in the Sydney Test will be a psychological boost."
The test of that statement could hardly be sterner. But if England and Trescothick fire they could, just, beat Australia tomorrow and that was not something which was possible to predict a week ago.
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