Somerset Legends ~ Marcus Trescothick ~ Giant of the Somerset Cricketing Landscape

SOMERSET LEGENDS ~ MARCUS TRESCOTHICK

GIANT OF THE SOMERSET CRICKETING LANDSCAPE

As Marcus Trescothick leaves Somerset to take up a post with England here is one person’s appreciation of some aspects of the contribution he has made to Somerset cricket. It consists of the author’s memories of some of the highlights of an illustrious Somerset career in first-class cricket. There was more, much more, but I hope this will give something of a flavour of Marcus Trescothick, Somerset giant, in whites with the bat and in the field. Access to the Cricket Archive database has been most helpful in identifying or confirming some of the statistics used in this article.

As you travel the highways of Britain there are iconic landmarks that capture the identity of the surrounding landscape and the history of the nation. Stonehenge, beside the A303 in Wiltshire, has withstood the winds and the rains of time in that part of Salisbury Plain for five millennia. The eight great cooling towers of Ferrybridge power station rose above the A1 and the M62 motorway for five decades before five were demolished in 2019. The three that remain are among the last great icons of the power of northern industry which once fuelled the economy of the country. Marcus Trescothick has been an icon of Somerset cricket for nearly three decades, an aeon in the life of a cricket professional, and is as much a part of the Somerset cricketing landscape and its long history as Stonehenge and Ferrybridge are of the history and landscape of the nation.

Somerset to the core, his debut was in 1993 in a match with some history of its own. I was circumnavigating a roundabout in Walthamstow when the BBC sports desk announced that Somerset had beaten Lancashire by 15 runs. It came as a seismic shock because Lancashire’s target had been just 88. The shock, to Lancashire at least, had been administered by another Somerset legend, Andrew Caddick, who had taken what was to be a career-best 9 for 32 after Adrianus van Troost had scored 35 in a last wicket stand of 40 to enable Somerset to set any sort of target at all. Yet another Somerset legend, Mark Lathwell, had given Somerset something of a base for the match by scoring 71 in Somerset’s first innings 195. Trescothick had only scored one in the first innings and three in the second, but it was an illustrious match in which to begin an illustrious Somerset career.

Trescothick scored 52 first-class centuries for Somerset, more than any other player, and a further 14 scores in the nineties. And yet, for all his batting heroics, the image which springs most readily to my mind when thinking of him playing cricket for Somerset has nothing to do with a bat, at least not his bat. In the days before the pavilion now named after him, I was sitting on the terrace of the Old Pavilion with Trescothick at second slip in direct line between me and the batsman. The mists of the memory have long since folded around the name of the batsman. What remains vividly clear however was the catch Trescothick took. Not the most difficult as slip catches go. Fast off the edge and rising to about a foot above and to the side of his right shoulder. I expected the hands to flash and intercept the ball as it arrived. Instead, they moved smoothly, arrived before the ball, and waited for it, almost patiently. Having time in fielding is as much a measure of class as it is in batting. It was just one of 445 catches he took for Somerset in 296 first-class matches, 52 more than any other player in Somerset’s history.

Another catch sticks in the mind. Against Surrey at Guildford, the County Championship in 2019. It was the last time Trescothick appeared on a Somerset first XI team sheet, and his last first-class catch, although those of us watching were not to know that at the time. I was square of the wicket, in the front row, in front of the trees by the Woodbridge Road, my favourite spot at Guildford. Trescothick was in his habitual position at second slip. A snorter of a ball from Jack Brooks as Surrey collapsed from a potentially match-winning position forced an edge from Ben Foakes. The ball flew fast and low to Trescothick’s right. His 43-year-old frame was down and across in a flash. He ended up stretched full length on the ground, his whole momentum in my direction. I had a perfect, if distant, view of the lightning quick movement of his hands as they intercepted the ball inches above the ground and held it fast. “Wonderful catch!” the shout that revealed two more Somerset supporters sitting just along the row from me. Surrey, already wobbling, did not recover. If there had to be a catch to end such a career that one, now frozen in time in the cricketing memory bank, was as good as any.

Trescothick spent most of his fielding career in the slips. I do though recall a couple of incidents from his later, less mobile years, where he struck from elsewhere. The opposition and the matches have faded from view, although both were at Taunton, but the images of Trescothick are still clear in the mind. On the first occasion he was at cover or midwicket, the ball was played wide of him, the batsmen ran for a brisk single. Not briskly enough. Trescothick’s comparative immobility in the field was neutralised, for once he had the ball in his hand he dispatched it like a thunderbolt to wreck the stumps and a very startled batsman’s innings. On the other occasion he was the only slip. The batsman edged along the ground, the ball ran towards the Sir Ian Botham Stand, Trescothick set off after it, seemingly running from memory. He hauled the ball in just short of the boundary as the batsmen turned to amble a third run ‘for the arm’ as used to be said. They too had reckoned without Trescothick’s arm. It flashed, the ball flew flat, fast and low before crashing into the stumps with another startled batsman well short of his ground. The legs may have stiffened with age, but the class still shone as bright as it ever did.

If Trescothick’s fielding was a sight to behold, his batting was a sight to treasure. His cover drive was the stuff of legend, but to my mind it was his ability to shape a match with his bat and set up a victory through sheer strength of will which made him one of the immortal giants of the Somerset landscape. Those great match-shaping and match-winning innings are the ones I treasure most. As an opening batsman he was not always there at the end of an innings, but there is rarely a triumphant end without someone with the vision to lay the foundations, set the direction and create an irresistible momentum from the start. It was a joy to have been in the right place at the right time and to have witnessed some of the best of those innings.

One classic example was his part in that historic match against Yorkshire at Taunton in 2009 in which Somerset scored 479 for 6 in less than a day to win. It was, and remains, Somerset’s highest ever successful run chase and Trescothick’s innings was crucial to its success. In Somerset’s first innings I had been witness to a small incident which illustrated his powers and their effect on an opposition. He scored a peerless 146. I was sitting at the front of the Somerset Stand when he was out. As he popped the ball back to the bowler, the fielder on the boundary in front of me turned and said, “Thank goodness for that. He makes you feel like a schoolboy when you bowl at him in that form.” It was said with a mixture of feeling, respect and not a little helplessness. Cricket is as much a game of psychology as it is of skill.

In the second innings of the match Trescothick was bowled by Matthew Hoggard for 96 to end a 187-run opening partnership with Arul Suppiah, who eventually made 131. They laid the foundations for a Somerset victory completed so gloriously by Peter Trego’s devastating 54-ball century. As to Trescothick, his was an innings which showed him at his dominant, determined best. His 96 took just 117 balls and included 15 fours and a six. And yet, the enduring image is not of the strokes he played, measured and precise though they were as he drove the momentum of the day Somerset’s way, but of the control he exerted over proceedings.

At the outset he seemed unhurried. But as the innings proceeded the emphasis shifted to what an army might call a reconnaissance in force, at least that is how it looked to me, by now watching from the top of the Old Pavilion. It was as if Trescothick was exploring the ground, seeking out the possibilities, testing the opposition and then building a base from where the rest of the side could launch an assault on an apparently impregnable target. It seemed an impossible dream, but as he and Suppiah made progress a tense hush settled across the ground driven by the growing thought that perhaps, just perhaps … A ‘perhaps’ to be turned into glorious reality by Peter Trego.

It is that sort of dominance and control of a match situation for which I most remember Marcus Trescothick’s batting. The drives, especially the cover drives of course, the steer past or the chip over the slips too, the lofted straight and on drives beyond the boundary and that trademark bat-inside-the-line leave which so often left those who did not watch him regularly thinking he had played and missed. They are all part of a glorious treasure trove of cricketing memories, but it was the way he could fashion an innings as if he had decided not just to score runs but to take control of a match and set up or force a victory that leaves the greatest impression of his batting at its best.

Castle Park, Colchester in 2010. The best innings I saw him play. One of the best innings I saw anyone play. Somerset were challenging for the County Championship, the season was approaching its climax, and to stay in contention Somerset had to win. They were on top in the game, but not decisively so until Trescothick’s innings. He had departed third ball for nought in the first innings before a gritty 84 in over three hours from James Hildreth took Somerset to 215 on a spicy-looking pitch. Essex replied with 151, with four wickets apiece for the pace of Charl Willoughby and Alfonso Thomas. At 41 for 3 in their second innings Somerset led by 105, ahead but not out of reach. Hildreth joined Trescothick and put together another determined innings, this time of 59 in over two hours. At the other end Trescothick took control of the match in partnerships of 157 with Hildreth, and then, after a mid-innings collapse, 127 unbroken with Murali Kartik (52 not out). No other Somerset player topped ten as the innings was declared on 367 or 8, a lead of 431 with over two days play remaining.  

Of those 367 runs Trescothick made an unbeaten 228 at all but a run a ball on a pitch which should not have permitted such batting. As others, on both sides, struggled, failed or nail-bitingly ground out runs he placed the ball at will. Essex had no answer as the field was clinically dissected by his stroke play, outrun by the ball and the bowling was systematically beaten down. The field was, fielder by fielder, forced back under the onslaught until eventually all nine were on the boundary. As Trescothick turned the pressure onto Essex, Kartik began to score and Trescothick began clearing the nine fielders and the boundary. Seven times the ball crossed the sky to clear the rope, 23 times it crossed it and Trescothick never looked like getting out. It was the most consummate exhibition of controlled, match-winning attacking batting on a difficult pitch I ever saw.

When Essex batted for the second time the demons in the pitch regained their mastery. This time Peter Trego and Zander de Bruyn took advantage with seven wickets between them as Essex subsided to 212 all out and defeat by 219 runs before the end of the third day. I have always felt I saw a match of five innings. Somerset 215 and 139 for 8. Essex 151 and 212. Trescothick 228 not out.

The following season Somerset and Trescothick travelled to Worcester where he made another match-shaping double century. This time, I stayed at home, but a friend travelled to the match. Worcestershire batted first and scored 488, Willoughby and Trego preventing further damage with seven wickets between them. Following from a distance, I concluded the match had gone, at least as far as a Somerset victory was concerned. Trescothick thought otherwise and another great match-winning innings followed. Supported by Suppiah (88) and Nick Compton (95), he made 203 in over six hours at the crease with 30 fours and, this time, no sixes. He was second out with Somerset’s score on 358, just 130 behind Worcestershire. Hildreth (67) and Craig Kieswetter (68) helped take Somerset to 591 for 9 declared, and a lead of 103. The match was over around lunchtime on the fourth day when, a presumably demoralised, Worcestershire were dismissed for 95 in their second innings for Somerset to win by an innings, Trego and Thomas to the fore with seven wickets between them.

When I next saw my friend, he said with a tone of awe in his voice, “Trescothick was outstanding at Worcester. He never lifted the ball off the ground until he was out. It was as if he had decided Somerset would win the match and had set out to do it.” Thirty fours and no sixes in an innings of 203 suggests that assessment may have been close to the mark. If county cricket clubs had boards with major battle honours on them, Colchester 2010 and Worcester 2011 would feature firmly on Somerset’s. I don’t know Marcus Trescothick, but those two innings suggest a will of iron.

Earlier that season I had witnessed yet another astonishing innings from Trescothick. It did not define the match, but it quickly removed any doubt about the outcome. It was late May. For the third year in succession at Taunton Somerset defeated Yorkshire in a fourth innings run chase. In one sense this was the least remarkable of the three. Just 228 needed rather than the 362 of the previous year and the 476 of the year before that, and 50 or so overs available to score the runs. As I sat in the Somerset Stand, victory never seemed in doubt. Arul Suppiah looked solid at one end while Trescothick played an innings of stunning, attacking brilliance at the other. It was the sort of innings which is the stuff of dreams. The sort of innings in which the batsman seems to walk on air as the ball is stroked hither and thither while the bowlers and fielders trudge helplessly in sodden clay. The sun shone in all its glory, but it was Trescothick’s innings which lit up the afternoon. He was unbeaten as he scored 151 of those 228 runs from 131 balls. They were scored to a rising crescendo of anticipatory applause and cheering, for with Trescothick in that form the outcome never seemed in doubt. The fourth day crowd sounded as if it were twice its size as it cheered Somerset home, such was the dominance and quality of the innings.

There was too a subscript to that innings in which the making of Somerset history was agonisingly just out of reach. Trescothick came into the match having already scored 638 first-class runs that season including a century and a double century. Impressive statistics with the Yorkshire match still to be played before the end of May, but nothing to suggest the making of history might be a possibility. And then, in the first innings, Trescothick scored 189 in a Somerset total of 452. That brought him to within 173 runs of scoring a thousand first-class runs before the end of May, a feat only achieved eight times in the history of the first-class game, and only twice since the Second World War.

I don’t know how many in the ground were aware of how close Trescothick was but, with a nose for cricketing statistics, I was. It is a milestone replete with cricketing statistics of its own. W.G. Grace achieved it at the age of 46. Don Bradman achieved it twice, on the second occasion in only seven innings and that in 1938, the only season in which two batsmen achieved it. The other was Bill Edrich who scored all his thousand runs at Lord’s. W.G. Grace, Wally Hammond and Charlie Hallows all achieved it in May alone. It would have been an illustrious band to join.

With Yorkshire coming into the final day with a lead of 155 and just four wickets standing the prospect of the eventual target being large enough for Trescothick to score the runs, not to mention having to score a big hundred for the second time in the match, seemed fanciful. But Yorkshire, in spite of losing Jonny Bairstow for 80 to the third ball of the day, stretched their innings into the afternoon and Somerset’s target to 228. The last wicket alone added 25 runs and took 11 overs. As Yorkshire battled, I was torn between wanting them out quickly to ensure a Somerset victory and wanting a target that would both give Trescothick a chance and allow Somerset to win in the diminishing time available. Cricket of course does not work like that and 228 was 50 short of what Trescothick needed I thought. And so it proved. As Trescothick and Suppiah galloped towards the target at nearly six runs an over the hope of Trescothick’s thousand hung in the air like a will o’ the wisp, always tantalisingly just out of reach. In the end, Somerset won by ten wickets and Trescothick, with his second score of over 150 in the match, ended 22 runs short of joining that illustrious group of cricketing immortals. For those with an eye to cricket’s history it was a stunning Somerset victory tinged with regret at what might have been, and so nearly was.

Curiously, in 2012, Somerset travelled to Worcester with Nick Compton in a rich vein of form and needing 59 runs before the end of the second day of the match (31st May) to achieve the feat. Worcestershire batted first and continued their innings into the second day. On the second day 51 overs were lost to rain. Compton ended that day 50 runs short of his thousand. On 1st June he continued his innings and was eventually out for 108.

But back to Trescothick. I watched him score his final century. Old Trafford 2018, his 26th season with Somerset. Somerset had suffered a crushing defeat there the year before with Trescothick eventually losing an intense duel with Jimmy Anderson. There was a different outcome in 2018 and I was in the stands to watch. Trescothick was masterful. He began and built the base of his innings with deflections and steers; and then, as his innings grew into its maturity, he unfurled the drives and pulls. But whatever the stroke, the precision and placement were as accurate and decisive as ever and he outscored Matthew Renshaw and George Bartlett, the batsmen at the other end by three to two. When Lancashire tightened the leg side inner ring the reverse sweep was unleashed. Once again, Trescothick was taking control of a match, or at least of Somerset’s first innings.     

And then, with him in complete command, he collapsed at the crease before the ball he had just played could reach mid-on. He was clearly in considerable pain and as clearly furious at what had happened as he banged his helmet in apparent frustration. He was on 95. When, eventually, and after much treatment he got to his feet he could barely stand. At best he could only move by hobbling, often using his bat as a walking stick. My heart sank. He had already suffered two serious ankle injuries each of which had kept him out of the game for weeks. I had seen both happen, one on television and one live. This looked worse. I wondered if I had seen the end of his career. And it seemed impossible he could as much as complete his innings. But he did. Matthew Renshaw was called upon to run and when Trescothick had to walk to the other end it was excruciating to watch. And what pain it must have been, for investigations subsequently revealed a broken metatarsal. And yet he overcame the immobility and the pain sufficiently to find a pair of twos and a single to reach his century. Then, on the final afternoon, when Somerset were facing defeat after a second innings collapse, the players came off for tea. Somerset were eight wickets down and not quite far enough ahead to be safe. When they reached the pavilion, they were met by Trescothick padded up and ready to bat had the ninth wicket fallen. A will of iron, let there be no doubt.

And an iron determination to return to the fray. Later in the season he was back in Somerset colours for what turned out to be a final reminder of all that had gone before. Two innings stick in the mind. A majestic 71 at Worcester. “It is if he has shed ten years,” one Somerset supporter said to me. A late cut and a square drive, as good as ever, both took the breath away. Then, in the final match of the season at Trent Bridge, another 71. This time the drives of old, mainly through the covers and straight, were unfurled in all their glory. Each time it was as if the bat, the stroke and the resulting motion of the ball were played out in seamless succession as if they were one single entity. One drive through extra cover, played with the body balanced in perfect reflection of the angle of the bat, would have been a worthy subject for a Degas painting. One straight drive flowed past the bowler’s stumps and all the way to the boundary as if transported there on a cushion of air.

Those two innings, and I was fortunate enough to see both, were worthy reprises of the Trescothick I had watched down the years and I shall always be thankful I saw them. 2018 proved to be his last full season and the 71 at Trent Bridge proved to be his last significant innings. And then, on the final morning, a wonderful career was neatly topped off. Craig Overton took a hat-trick. Trescothick caught all three as he stood in the slips as he had done for a quarter of a century. It just seemed appropriate for one of the most outstanding players, and slip fielders, ever to wear the wyvern to take a hat-trick of slip catches before the curtain finally came down with that wonderful catch at Guildford the following May. A true man of Somerset and a true giant of the Somerset cricketing landscape.