Butcher reveals torment of cricket exit

A one-time Ashes hero for England has spoken with startling honesty about his personal troubles after injury ended his career

Former England batsman Mark Butcher has given an extraordinary account of the highs and lows of life as an international cricketer, detailing his issues with alcohol and depression throughout a chequered time in the spotlight.

Butcher, who nowadays happily divides his time between cricket punditry and making music, was largely a mainstay of the England team between 1997 and 2004, playing 71 Tests until his career was cut short due to a wrist injury. 

The left-handed opening batsman is perhaps most remembered for his match-winning 173 not out in the 2001 Ashes at Headingley, scored on the final day after stand-in Australia captain Adam Gilchrist's aggressive declaration.

Butcher walks off after his match-winning ton against Australia in 2001 // Getty
Butcher walks off after his match-winning ton against Australia in 2001 // Getty

It was one of eight hundreds scored by the Surrey product, but while he was a consistent performer for a side that won only 27 of the matches in which he played, his life outside the boundary was a roller-coaster. 

In an interview with All Out Cricket, Butcher said his life spun out of control after he his marriage broke down and he was dropped from the England team in late 2000.

"(In) January 1999, my eldest daughter was born. I had an affair, got the lady pregnant, and December 1999, my second daughter was born," Butcher recalled.

"Got divorced back-end of 2000. I was dropped from the England team at the end of 2000. I went through a huge feeling of, 'I've just f---ed everything, I'm going to quit playing, I'm going to drink bottles of red wine until I die'.

"I made myself sick. I woke up on the floor of some random person's house screaming. I went to the doctor, who said, 'You really ought to stop this' (laughs)."

Butcher's description of the pressures of cricket at the top level for England players is far from a lone example.

Another former opener, Marcus Trescothick, was so stricken by anxiety on one overseas tour that, as he told The Independent in 2008, "I thought I was going to die".

The left-hander suffered from acute homesickness which was exacerbated by the cricket bubble in which he existed while on tour.

Trescothick goes big in the 2005 Ashes // Getty
Trescothick goes big in the 2005 Ashes // Getty

"Maybe we have to be a little bit mad doing what we do, sometimes spending six hours in the field. Maybe it's something to do with the mental application required to play cricket," he reflected in that interview. 

"You lose track of what you are, and who you are, because you get so wrapped up in what you're achieving.

"To be a professional sportsman you have to be very selfish, and especially so in cricket because you play for such long hours. Once you throw in overseas tours ..."

Trescothick's point was one recognised by Butcher, who said simply "I had to change my personality" in order to succeed on the cricket field.

He did exactly that, and entered the most productive period of his England career.

"That summer I got 170 and cemented my place," he said.

"From that moment on, I decided, 'I'm going to do this on my own terms'.

"I virtually invented this complete dickhead who would do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, he's going to have as much fun as he can playing cricket, outside of cricket, and if it lasts it's going to last.

"Up until just before I got the (career-ending) injury, I was starting to get very tired of this character; it was a slight relief (to get injured).

"The weird thing was, it ejected me out of being this kind of manic-depressive loser, and got my career back on track, but I started to fall off the other side of it and become exactly the same person, even though I was an England player and everything was supposedly very glamorous. It wasn't good."

Like Butcher and Trescothick, Jonathan Trott was another forced to deal with mental demons while simultaneously forging a reputation as one of the world's best batsmen.

And it was the pressure associated with that responsibility and expectation that resulted in Trott suffering from a stress-related illness.

Mitchell Johnson celebrates dismissing Trott in the 2013-14 Ashes // Getty
Mitchell Johnson celebrates dismissing Trott in the 2013-14 Ashes // Getty

"Just briefly," he wrote in his autobiography of a period during the 2013 Ashes, "I considered driving my car into the Thames or into a tree. That way I could get out of the ordeal.

"You want to find a way to avoid going to the ground. You hope the covers have leaked overnight – or you hope for rain.

"But it got bad and, as soon as I put my tracksuit on, it was like a trigger. I was going back into that arena, that pressure cooker, that place of judgment."

Butcher's highs and lows were also affected by the abuse of alcohol, which he said happened "all the time".

"You'd get in the car (to drive) with a skinful on board, it used to happen all the time," he said.

"It was disgraceful. I remember getting in my car after an Oval game after a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a load of beers and driving back to Canary Wharf.

"I was f---ing blind. Nothing happened, thank God. Someone was going to tell me I couldn't? No-one would.

"It was that attitude of, 'I'll do what I want", and that's all ego, nothing more, nothing less."

The full interview from All Out Cricket can be read here

Where are they now?

Mark Butcher has not only established himself as a successful and thoughtful cricket commentator and analyst, but the former opening bat is also a talented guitarist and songwriter, having most recently recorded an album in January. 

Marcus Trescothick continues to ply his trade with Somerset in the County Championship at the ripe old age of 41. The evergreen left-hander is approaching 25,000 first-class runs while earlier this month he was an advocate for Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

Jonathan Trott retired from international cricket in 2015 but remains a key batsman for Warwickshire, for whom he's scored a century and two fifties in England's ongoing domestic one-day cup.

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