Aggressive by instinct

S. DINAKAR

IN sport, we constantly seek those moments of greatness, those streaks of brilliance, those glimpses of magic.

AFP

At the glorious Eden Gardens, even more breathtaking under the lights, and filled to the brim, we embraced a cricketing performance that was an amalgam of rare talent and character.

It was the rather hollow world of the one-day internationals (ODIs), yet we kept our date with sporting excellence. Genuine quality can so effortlessly cut across barriers, transform rather ordinary duels into extraordinary events.

Marcus Trescothick's truly memorable 109-ball 121, an innings studded with strokes of stunning power and precision, should rank among the finest ODI knocks witnessed in this country.

Yet, the occasion was tinged with sadness, for it was a shocking leg-before verdict that sent the strongly-built English opener on the long walk back...the defining moment of the showdown.

For most part, he had fought the fires that threatened to consume him with the passion and resolve of a gladiator in an ancient arena. A heroic battle it certainly was...one in vain though.

But then, sports travels beyond mere winning and losing and as the dust settled on a dramatic encounter, Trescothick stood taller than anybody else. He deserved to.

It was no different at another great cricketing venue, just seven months ago, when Trescothick's magnificent 137 against Pakistan at Lord's, in a triangular one-day tournament, went unrewarded.

England was chasing 242 against a varied Pakistan attack, including the feared Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq. It was a gripping tussle, and Trescothick took on the Pakistani bowlers, conjuring stirring strokes under considerable pressure.

Finally, he was the penultimate man dismissed, with just six runs required for victory. And England fell short...by two runs. Again, Trescothick was the 'tragic hero' in the emotionally overwhelming theatre that sport undeniably is.

There would also be matches where his hundreds will fuel England to heady wins ... things do have a habit of evening out over a period. Trescothick would surely welcome those days.

He is just two years old in international cricket, but already has the aura of someone who has been around much longer. Trescothick earned the England ODI cap against Zimbabwe in the 2000 summer at home, and found his bearings quickly too, making a brisk 79.

He sparkled on his Test debut too, in the third Test against the West Indies the same season, coming up with 66 in his first innings. Marcus Trescothick was well on his way.

Indeed, it has been an eventful journey into big time cricket for the 26-year-old southpaw from Keynsham, Somerset. Runs usually flow thick and fast when Trescothick occupies the crease; he is a naturally aggressive batsman who backs his instincts.

Actually, it's young cricketers such as Trescothick who hold the key to England's future - a side that was under a state of siege after early elimination in the 1999 World Cup. The side's fortunes have taken a turn for the better since.

He soon formed a reliable left-right opening combination with the experienced Michael Atherton, and the contrast in styles - Trescothick's flamboyance and Atherton's in-born doggedness - gave headaches to the bowlers.

Striking the ball fluently from a stance that is essentially upright, Trescothick drives firmly off either foot, and cuts and pulls with panache, like most left-handers. And as he revealed in Kolkata the other day, Trescothick can dump the spinners into the stands with ridiculous ease.

The 2000-2001 'away' season was a momentous one for both England and Trescothick. England, proving many a prediction wrong, conjured away Test series triumphs in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and Trescothick, did play his part, though his first Test hundred, 122 at Galle, figured in a losing cause.

The tours of the sub-continent matured Trescothick as a cricketer and there was much praise for his healthy approach and outlook. He also adapted well, changing his game-plan to suit the situation. There were some defensive knocks as well from Trescothick.

And when England duelled it out with Pakistan in a rollercoaster two-Test series during the following summer at home, Trescothick did dish out a strokeful 117 at Old Trafford, again a match in which England went down - this time due to some dubious umpiring in the later stages of the contest.

He did not have an outstanding Ashes series by any stretch of imagination. However, through knocks like his 76 at Edgbaston, he did make his presence felt.

And in India, Trescothick was buzzing in the Test series, with scores of 66 and 46 in Mohali, followed by a hard-hitting 99 in Ahmedabad. He is an influential batsman when on song, and the confidence often rubs off on the others.

There were no half-measures from his blade as he dealt with the task of handling the spin duo, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. There was a firmness of feet and thought. In the early stages of his career, Trescothick's footwork or the lack of it invited much criticism. However, he has worked hard on this vital aspect of his cricket.

Being combative in nature, he strives to contribute, and is a handy seam bowler apart from being an expert poacher in the slip cordon. Indeed, Trescothick has matured quite rapidly as a cricketer, and it is not entirely surprising that he has been elevated as Nasser Hussain's deputy.

He is a batsman with a fairly impressive record in both forms of the game - Trescothick has 1311 runs from 19 Tests at 38.55 and 1017 in 28 ODIs (ave. 37.77). Insiders in the English camp say, he also reads the game well.

On the flip side, he has, on occasions, perished to some forgettable strokes. That is perhaps the price a shot-maker has to pay. The entertainers do have to walk the tightrope - between sizzling strokeplay and untimely dismissals.

The days ahead will be crucial for Trescothick. Hussain has already hinted about relinquishing captaincy somewhere over the next couple of years, and the chances are that the man from Somerset could well find himself in the hot seat.

But then, given his temperament, he could well relish the challenge. The coming days, months and years, should be crucial and interesting for Marcus Trescothick... the man who took wing on an unforgettable night at the Eden Gardens.