by Bob Lethaby
Much has been said about stress related illness in sport lately, in particular cricket and without sounding self-righteous, when I saw the state of Jonathan Trott batting in the second innings against Australia, I kind of guessed that another victim was about to be announced.
Let me tell you, as someone who has tried, with mixed results, just about every sport going, none is more stressful and deflating than cricket can be. It is a great game but I have had some really bad days and witnessed others, good local players including my own son, with their heads completely scrambled as they try gain some form and understand what has gone wrong with something they were competent at.
Everyone who has played cricket will know that feeling of fear of failure and total isolation that comes when walking to the crease. It comes with knowing that one false shot or straight delivery could mean that something you have given your whole day up for is over in a couple of seconds. It’s that brutal.
Imagine carrying those same insecurities knowing that millions are watching you and that the career, reputation and lifestyle you have created for yourself is constantly on a knife edge as 11 hardnosed Aussies prey on any weakness like a school ground bully.
All other sports offer the possibility of redemption. A centre forward might miss a chance then score a hat-trick and a golfer might miss a putt then follow up with a thirty yard chip straight in the hole. For a cricketer there are no second chances, it is all over with one error or one Jaffa of a delivery. That’s pressure for you.
Anyone who has suffered with depression and stress related panic attacks will tell you that it is a desperately lonely existence, a battle with a brain that is functioning on the pressures of modern life whilst still carrying the basic fight or flight instincts of a caveman.
For some it is a passing phase that is dealt with by regular exercise, changes in circumstances or chemically balancing drugs, whilst for others it is a daily battle with anxiety and the demons that come with it. No one knows the seriousness of Trott’s illness but I hope that it is one that he can recover from fully.
It would seem that there are certain sections of the Australian camp and the media that perceive that it is just dandy to play on this condition and seek to destroy a man all for the sake of winning an Ashes series which is important to all cricket fans but not that important for Christ’s sake.
Some of these guys would be well served to read up about the suicide rates in cricket or even look to one of their fellow countryman, the former Rugby Union star, Ben Tune, to see how debilitating depression can be to sportsmen. Not all Aussies are bad but the likes of Lehman and Warner need to take a good look at themselves.
Every amateur player like me, who thinks that Trott is weak, should also think a bit more and imagine themselves going out to bat in front of 40 thousand baying Aussies and millions of TV viewers, knowing that twenty years of Colts, County and finally, international cricket could be at the point of oblivion. One bad series and you are yesterday’s man.
Trott didn’t battle through all ranks of cricket and score a ton on his Ashes debut because he is weak of will; he did it through hard work and immense mental strength. The problem I guess is when you get as good as him, dealing with the expectation and standards you have set yourself is all the more difficult, especially when mental illness is thrown into the equation.
Last summer, I did a ninety mile trip, leaving my girlfriend at home on a balmy summers day, all because I believed that I could not miss another opportunity to score a first ever 50. I was out for a second ball duck and that was that. As I drove home I felt so low, I started wondering why I did this to myself every week, rather than sitting around with friends having a beer and a barbecue.
I soon got over it (after a day or two) but the fact was it didn’t really matter, as all that I had proved was that I was still crap. No one was watching except my chortling team mates and it didn’t affect my professional career, my credibility, lifestyle or financial status. With professional cricketers, all of that is at stake.
For someone who has to intensely watch every single 90 mph delivery whilst deciding in 0.25 seconds whether to hit the ball or leave it well alone, it is little wonder that with a bit of mental illness chucked in, they are in big danger of a total breakdown that can lead to a horrendous conclusion.
Cricket in its most basic form, is a fantastic and sociable sport that leads to great friendships and it is without question, through my own experience with Colts, great social development for children. However, at its most brutal level, it can be an intensely lonely and stressful place for high order batsmen in particular.
Whether cricket causes depression or depressive people are drawn to cricket, we do not yet know, but what we do know, is that as a cocktail, the two are a match made for someone’s private hell.
I sincerely hope Johnathan Trott makes a speedy recovery.
Read more of Bob’s ace writing here – http://www.boblethaby.co.uk/