Former England cricket captain Mike Brearley tells Channel 4 News that batsmen face a more “dramatic” form of failure – as Jonathan Trott leaves the Ashes due to “stress-related illness”.
On Monday the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that Trott would be taking no further part in the Ashes, and would be taking a “break from cricket for the foreseeable future”.
The failure is larger and more dramatic. It is like the deposition of a king. Mike Brearley
“Trotty has been suffering from a stress-related condition for quite a while,” England Team Director Andy Flower said.
“He’s always managed it very successfully and he’s been a brilliant international batsman for England and hopefully will continue to be a brilliant international batsman for England in the future.
“But he needs time away from this environment for a while; he needs time with his family; he needs time to reassess and spend some quiet time with his family. And this isn’t the type of environment for that type of rest and recuperation that he requires.”
Mr Brearley (pictured left in 1972), who captained England in the 1970s and 1980s, said the pressures faced by cricketers, and more specifically batsmen, can be felt more keenly than in other sports.
My priority now is to take a break from cricket so that I can focus on my recovery. Jonathan Trott
“It goes on for such a long time, being in the public eye, the centre of attention and focus,” he said.
“As a batsman you have to leave the field when you fail. You don’t get that in other sports. The failure is larger and more dramatic. It is like the deposition of a king.
“In most cases, as in most family situations or work situations, these things don’t get out of hand, they don’t get so someone has to leave. On the whole it can be managed. But sometimes things can get out of hand and that seems to be what has happened with Jonathan Trott.”
Trott’s withdrawal follows the England team suffering a heavy defeat to Australia in the first test of the Ashes in Australia. During the test Australian batsman David Warner criticised Trott, calling his dismissal on the third day as “pretty poor and pretty weak”.
Though the comments have been criticised by Mr Flower, he has also been keen to emphasise that sledging has not contributed to Trott’s illness.
However, he did says that “one of the reasons we don’t like commenting about opposition players is because we don’t know what is going on in their dressing room, we don’t know what is going on in their private lives”.
Mr Brearley, who following his playing career became a registered psychoanalyst, pointed out that we do not know if sledging played any part in Trott’s decision to leave, but said that the unusual phenomenon of back-to-back test matches will have meant tensions between the two sides are “accentuated”.
One of the things that has been a good thing for the sport has been that people have been more willing to reveal things that might otherwise have been thought of as weaknesses. Mike Brearley
This year is the first of two “back-to-back” Ashes series, meaning the test matches take place in both England and Australia. The move is designed to break the cycle of the Ashes being held directly before the Cricket World Cup.
Mr Brearley said: “One of the drawbacks of having ten test matches between two sides between the middle of July and the middle of January, a period of six months, is that it means all the tensions between the two sides, all the aggravations, can be accentuated.
“If it (sledging) has got something to do with this, the heated atmosphere has something to do with close combat over a number of months.
“The Australians, after their defeat in the summer, are under a lot of pressure at home as well. They are more liable to try and get the boot on the other foot and put it in. I’m not saying that it what has happened, but it would be understandable human nature.”
He added that a problem for international sportsmen is that it is assumed that they are “not easily knocked back”.
He said: “The trouble is that these athletes have got to such a high level, one assumes that they are not easily knocked back, that these comments are not going to bruise.
One of the reasons we don’t like commenting about opposition players is because we don’t know what is going on in their dressing room, we don’t know what is going on in their private lives. Andy Flower
“Actually, one of the things I learnt as captain, at times too slowly, was that one could upset someone more than you knew. Sometimes it makes people more resilient but sometimes it can undermine someone.”
However, he said that with the practice of sledging, “most of it, to my mind, is acceptable” adding: “It is a psychological as well as a physical game.”
Mr Brearley also said that the situation for players undergoing mental strain has improved in recent years.
He said: “Over the past few years one of the things that has been a good thing for the sport has been that people have been more willing to reveal things (what has happened to them) that might otherwise have been thought of as weaknesses.”
For his own part, Trott has said he did not feel right “playing knowing that I’m not 100 per cent”.
“My priority now is to take a break from cricket so that I can focus on my recovery,” he said. “I want to wish my team mates all the very best for the remainder of the tour.”
Members of the England and Australia camps, past and present, have tweeted their support for Trott.
I wish Johnathon Trott a speedy recovery from a tough situation, a safe flight home to be with family! #ashes
— Darren Lehmann (@darren_lehmann) November 25, 2013
Trotty will be back . Over the hardest hurdle in his recovery by facing it head on , which is something we are not all able to do #braveman
— fred flintoff (@flintoff11) November 25, 2013
— Paul Collingwood (@Colly622) November 25, 2013
Feeling for Jonathan Trott. I hope he and his family are left alone by all media & he’s able to recover quickly & return to the Eng team !
— Shane Warne (@warne888) November 25, 2013
Trott is the third England player to leave a tour in recent years and to have spoken publicly about the mental health causes (see box, below).
Dr Nick Maguire, chartered clinical psychologist at the University of Southampton, said the pressure of expectation makes stress-related problems more likely for elite sports stars.
Encouragingly we have seen a number of cricketers speak out about their mental health in recent years, which helps dispel the myth that mental health problems are something to be ashamed of. Paul Farmer, Mind
Dr Maguire said: “Elite athletes are under a great deal of pressure to succeed, both explicitly from others and in terms of what they expect from themselves.
“Many may have thoughts about their value as people being entirely tied up with success in their field.
“This will drive behaviours which may lead to success, but if the success they expect – or what they think others expect – does not follow, they may have thoughts such as ‘I’m a complete failure’, or ‘I’ve let everybody down’.
“These kinds of thoughts can lead to stress, anxiety, low mood and depression. These emotions, coupled with an intense training regime, busy tour schedules or being away from family and friends, like professional cricketers, adds to the pressure and the mood of the player even more.”
Cricketers who have left tours due to mental health concerns
Marcus Trescothick: during England's Ashes campaign in 2006, Trescothick flew home after two matches due to a recurrence of a stress-related illness. He has since spoken openly about his attacks of anxiety, which he called the "beast that lurks inside."
Michael Yardy: the left-handed bowler flew home from the Cricket World Cup in 2011. He said leaving the competition was "tough" but that it was "prudent" and "better" for him.
However Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind said by going public with the issue, Trott would help others confront their mental health issues.
“Professional sports people can find themselves under enormous pressure and may worry about speaking out in case they appear weak,” he said.
“Encouragingly we have seen a number of cricketers speak out about their mental health in recent years, which helps dispel the myth that mental health problems are something to be ashamed of.
“We hope this helps others open up about how they are coping and seek help if they need it.”