There were some who wrote Marcus Trescothick off four years ago. At the age of 37, the Somerset great went through a cricket season without a century for the first time and predictions were made that the end of his playing career was nigh.
Yet 2013 did not prove to be the twilight of the former England opener's time at the crease after all and he is now enjoying a protracted Indian summer. It was Trescothick who almost single-handedly dragged Somerset back from the brink of relegation from Division 1 of the County Championship in the 2015 season with 210 not out in a vital late-season draw against Sussex at Hove. Last season in mid-July, he passed 1,000 runs for the campaign and now again this year, almost single handedly forced a draw with Warwickshire as he passed Harold Gimblett’s record for the most hundreds – 50 in total. It is also only Gimblett who lies beyond him, as the highest-ever run-scorer in Somerset’s history.
Born on Christmas Day 1975 and brought up in Keynsham, Trescothick’s desire to be a cricketer was evident and non-negotiable from an early age. As he retells the story from a quarter of a century ago, he couldn’t wait.
“I did my GCSEs when I was 16 and the day after my exams I joined Somerset,” he said. “Originally, I had planned to go to Bath College to do a sports and recreation course but I never took it up. My mum said to me 'if you are serious about your cricket that’s fine, but if not then buckle down and do some work'. I was serious about my cricket. I have never had the thought that I didn’t want to do this but I think for any young cricketer it is about work as well as ability. I still work and prepare in the same fashion as I did when I was 20. Of course, when you are out of form you sometimes think you want a break but I have never thought: 'I don’t want to play cricket any more'. I still mentally have the same approach and love for what I do, even though the body at 40 may not always be quite so willing.
“Gimblett is of course still 3,000 first-class runs in front of me as Somerset’s highest ever run scorer, which is at least a couple of very good seasons away, but it does give you something to drive for. When you get close to a record, journalists and people around the game let you know, so then it comes to your attention but before then you don’t really think about it."
Stepping down from the Somerset captaincy in 2016 has allowed Trescothick to concentrate on his batting and he admits the lighter workload has helped, adding: “Playing just four-day cricket and not captaining is a lot easier.”
However, being dropped from the one-day and T20 sides clearly rankles although, as is typical of the man, it is expressed more as mild surprise than real anger.
“I am available for all cricket,” said Trescothick. “It is not my decision that I am not playing in the one-day game. I still feel I could do a job, especially in the 50-over competition. “However, the club has changed direction and gone with a different plan. But after 23 years my heart still lies with the club and if they phoned me and said they needed me to play tomorrow, then I am in but then adds wryly and after a pause “they didn’t order me any one-day kit, which could be a bit of a problem.”
There is an irony that it should be Gimblett's records that Trescothick is chasing. Both opening batsmen for Somerset and free scorers, both were equally beset by mental health problems.
For Trescothick it was depression and anxiety attacks that twice saw him leave England tours early, as well as Somerset's pre-season trip to Dubai in 2008. For Gimblett, the same conditions led to him walking out of a match against Yorkshire in 1953, afterwards saying he was finished and knew he shouldn’t have played. It was a sorry finale to a brilliant carrer plagued by depression, paranoia and insecurity, plus interruption by the Second World War.
After leaving the Yorkshire game he went into hospital as a voluntary patient but then at the end of that season returned surreptitiously to Taunton to watch the county take on the touring side of Pakistan. However, once his presence was discovered Gimblett recounts being called into the secretary's office only to be ordered out of the ground.
For Trescothick, with his demons behind him and as the records fall – with that one further milestone of Gimblett's lying ahead – it’s essentially a race against time to win further contracts. Yet for Somerset, if he ends the season as the leading run-scorer once again it has to be hoped that Trescothick’s extended cricketing career will be a triumph of ability over ageism, and with the all-time record overtaken.
So, just who was Harold Gimblett?
Harold Gimblett was born at Bicknoller in the Quantocks in 1914 and, in his early years, life was spent farming and bashing a cricket ball around the Watchet CC pitch. In 1934 he was given a month’s trial by Somerset, only to be rejected after two weeks. Yet, out of the blue the following day he was called back in. A last-minute vacancy had arisen when amateur player Laurie Hawkins had injured his thumb. Consequently, Gimblett made his debut at Frome in a fixture against Essex, called in one suspects more for availability than ability. Coming in at number eight, little would have been expected, although no doubt Gimblett was keen to show the county how wrong they had been in turning him away. Eighty minutes later he had scored 123, reaching his 50 in 28 minutes and his 100 in 63. It was the fastest hundred of the season and probably one of the most impressive debuts ever made by a county cricketer.
He went on to make 368 appearances for Somerset, scoring 23,007 runs. He never scored less than 1,000 runs in any season. Surprisingly, he only made three Test appearances, no doubt due to England’s plethora of talent and Gimblett’s own prickly character and incautious approach. Despite playing at a time when even Geoffrey Boycott would have looked rash, Gimblett’s 265 career sixes would not have been seen as appropriate behaviour for an opening bat.
After his rancorous departure from Somerset, Gimblett had a brief spell as cricket coach in Wales at Ebbw Vale Cricket Club, combined with a job in the steel works, but it didn’t last long. He then returned to the county of his birth to be a cricket coach at Millfield School, where he remained for 20 years, working with players such as Peter Denning, Phil Slocombe and Graham Burgess. However, initially happy, even that employment broke down, with Gimblett confessing he felt a failure.
Eventually, after several spells in psychiatric care, and a recipient of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), in 1978 he committed suicide at the age of 63.