The Tension of Expectation

This was written very early in the 2014 English season.  Marcus Trescothick, after his least successful season since 1998, had returned to the crease knowing  that he needed runs, convincing, fluent runs, early in the season, if he was to quieten the doubters who, aware of his age, felt that his relative lack of runs in 2013 may have been a sign of incipient decline, not just a temporary loss of form.  He knew it, we knew it, and he knew that we knew it.

In this short innings he made just 20, but, after failing twice in Somerset’s next match at Durham, he made a century at Hove and a smooth, well-balanced 72 in the next home game against Nottinghamshire.  For the time being, he was back.

It is a sunny afternoon at the County Ground in Taunton, and the April sky is a crystal shade of blue.

Away from the breeze it feels moderately warm. Jackets and jumpers are shed and the atmosphere feels somnolent as the Somerset openers begin their reply to Yorkshire’s first innings total of 450.

However, though the crowd is quiet as lunchtime fades into mid-afternoon on the game’s second day, the cricket is compelling.  The Somerset openers represent both ends of the professional batsmen’s spectrum: one is Chris Jones, 23 years old and with a century against Australia but little else to show for his nascent career.  He needs time at the wicket, and runs, to begin the journey from promising youngster to seasoned batsman, and to justify the faith of himself and others.  His partner is Marcus Trescothick.  He is 38 and has been around the professional game since his partner was in short trousers.  He also needs time at the wicket, and runs, to prove to others – and, though you should whisper it, to himself – that he can still perform as he used to.  There is expectation, but there is also uncertainty and unspoken tension.  This could go either way.

In the first over of the innings, bowled by Ryan Sidebottom, Trescothick eases away two boundaries.  The second is an on drive which leaves the mid-on fielder scrambling fruitlessly for balance.  I always used to say (still do, in fact) that you always knew when Marcus was playing well as he would usually get an off drive away early between the bowler and mid-off and that the timing and pace would, if his touch was right, always beat the fielder.  This is that in mirror image.  The ball is full and covers middle and leg, so Trescothick uses just a bit more left hand to guide it wide of the fielder, who has no chance of stopping it.

The fours are applauded, of course, but the crowd is barely more animated.  There is suppressed recognition that Marcus looks good.  Perhaps better than he looked in the whole of the 2013 season, which was his worst since before he became an England player.  The tension of concern gives way to the tension of expectation, and of hope.  These people have watched Marcus since he was the same age as Jones, and younger, they have known his triumphs and his setbacks, both on the field and off it.  They are desperate for him to succeed.

Jones looks solid and fluent too, but his innings doesn’t carry the same level of importance to others.  For him there will, at whatever level of the game he finds himself, be many more opportunities.  Trescothick doesn’t have the same sort of time on his side.

In the sixth over Trescothick drives Sidebottom’s partner Jack Brooks through the covers.  He doesn’t quite time it to perfection, and the bat turns slightly in his hands, but the ball easily runs to the boundary.  Trescothick’s call is loud and decisive.  You can tell from its volume and tone that he feels as though he’s starting to see it well.  Expectation levels are raised again.

In the eleventh Sidebottom again strays towards the leg-side and Trescothick glances him to fine-leg for four.  The stroke is wristier than is common from Trescothick, and so the ball travels finer.  This is good.

The tension eases, slightly.

The very next ball, though, it is over.  The delivery is full, and Trescothick plays over it.  His stumps are broken.

It’s one of the old truisms of batting that being dismissed is like dying.  It can happen slowly, or it can happen suddenly, but it can happen at any time.  The only advantage to batting is that after each death you can return for another go.

As you get older, though, it gets harder.  More doubts enter minds, more questions are asked.  One of the central ones, sometimes unspoken, sometimes not, is the question of when a poor run of form becomes a terminal decline.  This is the question which hangs over every innings Trescothick plays now.

Last Monday there were hints, just hints, of old glories.

Tomorrow, far to the north in County Durham, it all begins again.

Different Shades of Green, 19th April 2014

 

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