Stress, Depression and Australian Cricket – It’s Not ‘Tidlywinks’

Just as the summer of 2006 / 7 was about to start, English cricketer Marcus Trescothick left Australia due to what was called a “stress related illness”. We know now it was a long standing depression.  Media outlets, however, do like a euphemism when it comes to depression, so “stress related” it is.  At the time, I was in the middle of my own swirl of depression and self loathing, in the middle of a marriage that was about to run out of puff two years later. I didn’t really know at the time that I was in a fog of depression and chronic anxiety – we didn’t have the money for me to be seeking psychiatric help – getting the rent and car loan paid was difficult enough.  I did my best to hide and bury my own feelings of inadequacy and listlessness, which was worse when I wasn’t at work.  In the middle of this we had a cricketer declare that he had been going through his own hell – this was despite the fact he was a success, even England’s captain for a time.  It triggered confusion and more feelings of distant despair into some bloke out in the outer suburbs trapped in a life he didn’t want.  In addition, it wasn’t an overly understanding era in Australia then – I remember the rumours swirling about Trescothick’s wife being the “real” reason. The prevailing mood was “how could a cricketer be suffering a mental illness?”

I had forgotten almost all of this – I have mostly successfully buried my darkest years – when yesterday Jonathon Trott announced that he too was suffering and needed to go back to the support structures he has set up around him in England.  And then Oliver Milman of the Guardian reminded me of it yesterday.  The Trescothick decision came back to me and I was wondering how Australia would react this time.  For the most part, from what I have seen in our media outlets and on Twitter, it has been a sympathetic treatment of a man going through a situation that many in our community go through, often silently. Interestingly, the same Guardian journalist, Oliver Milman thinks that Australia will be more understanding of Trott than contemporary England:

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I hope Milman is correct.  This article from the Daily Telegraph, however, doesn’t fill me with hope.  The front page, which was supplied by Adam Spencer on Twitter this morning (and Kimberley Ramplin alerted me to its presence) is an utter disgrace, inferring that Trott is a little kid having a tantrum while Michael Clarke laughs at him.

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The article doesn’t improve much on the tone.

Embattled England No.3 Jonathan Trott flies home with a ‘stress-related’ illness

  • PETER BADEL, ROBERT CRADDOCK
  • NEWS LIMITED NETWORK
  • NOVEMBER 25, 2013 7:03PM

Already with the parentheses around stress related, suggesting that maybe it’s not related to stress. All the news outlets were using them in 2006 – almost none of them are now, which shows a greatest level of sensitivity to the issue.

And again, with the title for an embedded video:

JONATHAN TROTT’S ASHES TOUR OVER DUE TO ‘STRESS’ ISSUES

Then, we have the story, which has curiously dropped the parentheses that were in the headline.

JONATHAN Trott has dropped a bombshell on the England team by quitting the tour of Australia immediately due to a stress-related illness.

In a devastating blow to England’s campaign, Trott’s Ashes series is over after the classy No.3 returned home following his side’s crushing first-Test loss at the Gabba.

England coach Andy Flower and director of cricket Hugh Morris informed the 17-man touring party that Trott had left Australia and will take an indefinite break from cricket.

It is the latest ruction to hit the Poms, who are attempting to pick up the pieces following their heavy 381-run loss to Australia in the Ashes opener at the Gabba.

Trott has been the backbone of England’s top-order but the South Africa-born batsman said he has issues that are preventing him playing to his optimum.

England coach Andy Flower has slammed David Warner about the comments he made regarding Jonathan Trott in a press conference about the English batsman leaving the Ashes tour due to a “stress-related illness”.

“I don’t feel right that I am playing knowing that I am not 100 per cent and I cannot currently operate at the level I have come to expect,” Trott said in a statement via the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“My priority now is to take a break from cricket so that I can focus on my recovery.

“I want to wish my team-mates all the best for the remainder of the tour.”

After the statement, the article then seems to to show little sympathy for Trott as it reprints the things said about him during the test, including withering comments from former captain Michael Vaughan:

Trott left for England last night following the team’s first Test defeat against Australia, during which he played two strange innings and was shaken-up by Mitchell Johnson.

The 32-year-old registered twin failures at the Gabba, scoring 10 and 9 as he struggled with Johnson’s bounce and aggression.

He was also the victim of insults from David Warner , who accused England of being “scared” of fast bowling and Trott of being “weak”. Trott’s decision came just 24 hours after former England skipper Michael Vaughan lashed his batting efforts at first drop at the Gabba.

“Trott’s second innings at the Gabba was among the worst I have seen from an England No. 3 and the time has come for him to admit he has a problem against left-arm quick bowlers,” Vaughan wrote in his British newspaper column.

“Trott does not need to confess to the media but he should go to the coaching staff and tell them he has an issue against that kind of bowling.

“You do not play shots like the ones he did on Saturday without something being seriously wrong in your mind.

“For the first time in his career Trott is facing a question mark about how he is going to cope with a crisis.

“Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen have gone through that sort of period in the past and emerged stronger.

“Trott can do the same but he has hard work ahead of him because his problem is against pace and that kind of issue is so hard to resolve.”

The article then goes on and mentions Trescothick’s withdrawal. It is puzzling, however, why an article about Trott would include all those words from people like Warner and Vaughan when now people can work out that things were “seriously wrong” in Trott’s mind.

The other issue running alongside the withdrawal of Trott is that surrounding the Australian cricket team and its rediscovery of the “mental disintegration” so beloved of former captain Steve Waugh.  Press conference insults, threats of broken hands, that kind of thing.  That somehow it’s ok to tell a fast bowler who can’t bat all that well that he may well get injured. It’s a side of Australian cricket I have always disliked, possibly because it was Ian Chappell’s side that ramped up the testosterone levels into contests and I really can’t stand Chappelli’s brand of “Australian Bloke” behaviour. I know it’s possibly unfashionable to believe this, but a great team speaks louder with actions than brutal words. But I am also aware that in Australian sporting media and sporting circles in general, this isn’t the Australian way.

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It was inevitable that the issue of sledging would be tangled up in this story – indeed, if you look at the Telegraph’s format, the Trott article is littered with links and videos connecting it to the Michael Clarke / James Anderson story.  The article also brought up whether Trott’s decision to leave had anything to do with Warner’s comments about Trott – an issue very well dealt with by England coach Andy Flower:

Flower said Warner’s verbal attack on Trott was not behind his decision to leave.

“Jonathan has been struggling with this condition for quite a while, we have been on tour for about a month and he has had his ups and downs through that month and it is not directly related to that (Warner’s comment).

“I would also say players commenting to fellow professionals in the media is disrespectful and I think on this occasion he has got that horribly wrong.”

The attention has fallen to Warner and generally it seems that his comments have been declared out of order, as Matthew Hayden’s retweet seems to show:

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There has also been this comment by former captain Kim Hughes, who called Warner’s comment disgraceful. The fault shouldn’t be entirely sheeted home to Warner, however. It appears that since the ascension of Darren Lehmann to the position of coach, there is a return to the nasty, aggressive, arrogant tone Australia adopts at times in the name of “a winning team culture”. Warner, I suspect, could feel that and added what he believed would be appreciated.

It ultimately makes me wonder if the Australian team culture – and the culture of aggression that is reforming around it – could cope with a figure like Trott, a talented, prolific batsman who has needed strong support from the England team and the structures around it for a while. Whether an Australian team could gather around a bloke that needs understanding and time away from bonding sessions and the like from time to time.  After all, this is the same team culture that had castigated Michael Clarke for wanting to be with his loved ones rather than sitting in a dressing room singing the team song. It’s also a team that in the 80s didn’t show much understanding for the problems of Kim Hughes.  I don’t see much evidence that we have moved far beyond that era as a cricketing culture.

I hope I am wrong and then whenever there is someone who needs the Australian team to gather around him, that they will be able to do it. Like people in all walks of life, they need to be a community that is supportive of those walking with the black dog.

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