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If only Banger was back...

Tom Fordyce | 14:13 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Any England cricket fan would have experienced mixed emotions at Tuesday's William Hill Sports Book of the Year Awards.

There would have been pleasure at watching Marcus Trescothick win the £20,000 prize for his autobiography Coming Back To Me, and just as much in seeing the former England opener with a big smile back on his Taunton chops.

After years battling the depression that ended his international career, Trescothick at last looked at peace as the champagne and canapés were raised in his direction (for the record, Banger left the cocktail sausages pretty much alone).

Yet, even as the applause rang round the room, the thought was inescapable: how the current England team could do with him back.

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It's a selfish thought, for sure. Trescothick's book deals in detail with the mental traumas brought on by playing and touring with the national side, and no-one could ever wish those back upon him.

At the same time, it's also an unavoidable one. What a difference a fit, happy Tresco could make to today's struggling line-up.

Since England are currently 4-0 down in the one-day series against India, let's look at the shorter form of the game first.

England's opening pair have struggled from the start of the current tour. Ian Bell is averaging 21, Matt Prior 15. Ravi Bopara, brought in for Sunday's defeat in Bangalore, made just one.

Bell now averages just 33 after 27 matches at the top of the order; Prior 25 from 28. Trescothick, in almost five times as many matches opening for England, averaged 37 - with 12 hundreds, four more than any other England player in history and twice as many as Kevin Pietersen.

Take into account the additional trial of playing on Indian soil and the difference becomes even more pronounced. Trescothick averaged 53 in one-dayers in India, compared to Bell's 23 and Prior's 24.

It wasn't just the runs, of course, but the way in which they were scored. Trescothick had a strike rate in India of over 100, the closest England have had to an Adam Gilchrist or Chris Gayle at the top of the order.

That aggression from the off, the ability to set the tempo and take control of the game, has been horribly missed ever since he retired.

Those of us who witnessed Bell and Michael Vaughan crabbing along during the last World Cup, when England managed to score just nine runs off the first eight overs of their must-win game against South Africa, are still having nightmares about it.

Then there's the Test arena.

Trescothick averaged just under 44 in the five-day game, and 48 in India - good numbers, but again, it was always about more than just cold stats.

Together with the ability to score quickly off the fast bowlers at the start of an innings was a softness of hands against the slow bowlers that suited him beautifully on the subcontinent.

Looking ahead to next summer, if there was any player from the 2005 Ashes that England could choose to have back at their best, Trescothick would arguably come above Vaughan and Steve Harmison, and only marginally behind Simon Jones.

It was Trescothick's aggression on the first morning of the second Test that seemed to convince England, already a match down, that they could actually take the Australians on and beat them.

We were used to seeing Australia score 50 off the first 10 overs, but not England. That opening stand of 112 with Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston set the tone for both the day (407 England runs by close of play) and the rest of the series.

Only Pietersen averaged more for the home side than Banger that summer. Vaughan finished with an average 11 runs poorer; Ian Bell 26 runs down.

Trescothick is still only 32 years old, two years younger than Vaughan and a year younger than Ricky Ponting. By rights he should be at his peak.

Instead, he'll see out the remainder of his playing days at his beloved Somerset, determined to never again be more than a car journey away from wife Hayley and daughters Ellie and Millie. England fans can yearn all they like. He's not coming back.

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Despite all that, it's impossible to begrudge him his decision to leave international cricket behind.

On the last England tour of India he collapsed in tears in the dressing-room, homesick to hell and a broken man.

"India's a fantastic place to play cricket," he said on Tuesday, "but I don't envy them being out there.

"There were a lot of things left uncovered for me throughout the two years of trying to deal with the illness, and it was definitely a very cathartic process writing this book.

"To write about it and get it all out in the open was great and to read it back was quite an amazing experience. This was my opportunity to tell exactly the story that me and my wife went through."

If only it had been a different story to tell.

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