There is an underbelly to the county championship. For all of its romantic evocations of the turning of England's seasons, it has been a place where men's dreams have died, where their image of themselves has been reshaped, where thwarted ambition has blackened. It has its dark side.
In that regard it always has its symbols, its totems, too. For a decade, it was Barry Richards at Hampshire, a man whose talent engaged in a long and sometimes futile battle with his ennui. There was the brooding, brutal presence of Sylvester Clarke at the Oval, a putative king in exile. Mike Proctor at Gloucester wheeled in endlessly in lieu of having anyplace else to do it. There were others too, and all were players who found it a place of last resort.
For Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash it was something different, a way of slaking a thirst perhaps. For seasons now, Ramprakash has been its premier player. It has probably been a long time since May has come and gone without a hundred from him in the books, but he is over 40 now and what could once be summoned at will doesn't arrive so easily now. It could be his final year.
So who will succeed him? The answer is simple: it can only be Marcus Trescothick. The vagaries of the modern calendar have denied him a thousand runs by the end of May. He has piled up 978 already. His exile to county cricket is of a different sort, and he'll be a different kind of king. There is still a sense of what might have been about him, but he wears it more lightly. The competition needs someone like him at the top as its symbol of excellence. While he's there, as with Ramps, it's in safe hands.