Just when we thought we’d have to do a detailed analysis of what went wrong at the Gabba, a story breaks that puts everything into perspective. Cricket is, after all, only a game. Depression and anxiety can be matters of life and death.
Post-mortems of the on-field action are probably a little tedious now anyway. How many times is it possible to say (a) England’s batsmen usually screw up the first test match of important tours (so Brisbane was hardly a surprise) and (b) any team in the world would be undone by genuine pace and bounce when it’s been playing on slow low pitches for over a year?
We can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said about the weekend’s debacle, other than to point out that Graham Gooch is on thin ice as England’s batting coach. And if he isn’t, then he should be. With the exception of Ian Bell, every single member of England’s top seven has a declining average. Batsmen are supposed to get better, not collectively and individually worse.
On Gooch’s watch, England have failed to score over 400 in sixteen consecutive test innings now. What’s more, we’ve failed to make 200 plus in the first innings of the first test in five of our last nine overseas tours. That’s absolutely dismal. And we claim Australia’s batting is bad! Unless our key batters start performing soon, the cricket odds will be stacked against England for the rest of the series.
Now on to more important issues: poor old Trotty.
Nobody knows exactly what’s going on in Jonathan Trott’s private life (we might never know). All we can say with certainty is “we’re with you buddy – take care of yourself, and know that even if you never face another ball for England, you’ve had a great career and we’ll all remember your tenure as our number three fondly”.
As somebody who has some, albeit limited, experience of anxiety and depression, I know it’s all the worse for obsessive personalities. I’m not a psychologist, nor a cognitive behavioural therapist, but when I see Trotty scratching the crease every few seconds (and practicing his other somewhat obscure batting rituals) I think it’s a fair to assume he’s a pretty obsessive bloke.
The obsessive trait can work wonders for certain sportsmen – it makes them dedicated to their craft and can lift them to great heights – but sometimes it can take a mental toll. Just look at Jonny Wilkinson. Nobody hears about his dark times. When you’re a perfectionist, life is tough.
Because Trott seems like a thinker, and possibly someone who over-analyses his own emotions, he might not be cut out for touring anymore – in which case, like Marcus Trescothick, his international career is probably over.
This is awful news for the England cricket team, but it’s probably good news for Trotty himself. It’s so difficult to be away from one’s support network for such an extended lengths of time. Ashes tours last almost four months if you include the ODIs and T20 matches too. According to England’s itinerary, the last match is on 2nd February. What other sports place such ridiculous demands on it’s players?
However, rather than get into a discussion about why cricketers seem to suffer stress related conditions more than other sportsmen – we’ve heard all about Trescothick, Flintoff, Harmison, Yardy and Thorpe in recent years – I want to talk about why this often, if not always, happens on tours to Australia.
Speaking on Sky last night, Trescothick revealed he’d suffered a similar setback with anxiety on one of England’s tours to South Africa. With the help of the team’s excellent support staff, however, he was able to work through it. Indeed, he went on to have a prolific tour with the bat.
Unfortunately though, he found this impossible to do in Australia. When asked why, the admirably candid Tresco revealed that Australians, and in particular the media, made it too bloody hard.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, Australia is an incredibly unforgiving place to tour. The Aussie print media are like feral dogs – Shane Warne described them as ‘the worst in the world’ last week (and he should know) – which is why they call a bloke ‘a smug Pommy cheat’ for daring to do what 99.9% of Aussie cricketers do anyway.
Yes, the English gutter press is hardly a shining light of morality, but according to Warne they have their say and move on to the next target. The Aussie media, however, are like a dog with a bone: they simply won’t let go when they’ve got their claws into someone.
When you add the most hostile fans in the world into the equation – on my first visit to the Gabba, I witnessed a group of ten-year-old boys giving Alan Mullally a volley of vicious abuse that would’ve made a football hooligan blush – it’s no wonder visiting cricketers suffer mental breakdowns of various kinds.
The majority of Aussie fans are good natured and humorous – so please don’t think this is a slight on Australian cricket in general – but there is definitely a minority that goes too far.
Meanwhile, the media treat visiting teams like an invading army that must be destroyed at all costs. Australians are welcoming and extremely hospitable people, so why do their media treat sports coverage like some kind of propaganda warfare – one in which averagely intelligent men (for that it surely what they are) look for perceived weaknesses to exploit, in the hope of influencing the result of series? It demeans the rest of their country.
One would have thought that journalistic integrity, and simply trying to write interesting articles in good English, would be their priority. Instead they prioritise getting under tourists’ skin like a school bully who packs a good punch, but invariable finishes bottom of the class in just about every subject that matters.
And then we inevitably move onto the subject of sledging. The key aspect, when assessing the merits of sledging, is ‘humour’. Sledging should have an element of wit, or at least attempted wit. Otherwise it just descends into thuggish abuse – the kind of which we’ve also witnessed from two supposed Australian role models in recent days: David Warner and Michael Clarke.
We’re not being naïve here. Clarke isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, cricketer to intimidate a batsmen. England do it too. However, where exactly is the wit, or intelligence, in telling an opponent, let alone a tailender, that he’s going to have his arm broken?
What’s more, what was Warner trying to gain by informing the Aussie press that Trott was ‘scared’ and ‘weak’. It shows no class whatsoever. It brings cricket down to the level of boxing – which is I suppose, if the events of last summer are anything to go by, the level Warner likes to operate at.
One really hopes that Warner had no prior knowledge of Trott’s off-field problems – although the condemnation his comments received from the cricketing fraternity, even before Trott left the tour, suggests that people within the game had an inkling all wasn’t well with England’s number three.
Of course, there will be some Australians (and even a few England fans) who read this and think ‘if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’. They’ll argue that mental disintegration, or whatever you want to call it, is all part of the game. Maybe they have a point.
However, my view is that when strong likeable people really are unravelling mentally in the face of a sustained onslaught, things are getting out of hand. Basically, it’s time for cricket fans and journalists – and I should probably include the English media and elements of the Barmy Army in this – to tone it down a notch.
After all, who really wants to win by behaving like thugs? Who wants to win at all costs – even if the price is forgetting that cricket is, after all, a game that should be played in a certain spirit.
Should a country be proud when its collective cricketing community – its fans, its players, its media – send a succession of professional sportsman into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression? Cricket should be played hard, but within boundaries. The boundary lines have been crossed this past week.
Written in collaboration with Betfair
I agree completely with your comments about Gooch,
Mitchell Johnson was mercilessly taunted by the Barmy Army, English media and even this blog. People even gloated over him being ”mentally fragile”. He spent time with a sports psychologist and has made a successful come back (so far). I think, as you’ve suggested, some soul searching is needed by more than just the Australians. I am not saying it has gone too far, but we do need to stop and think about it.
The rules of Sledging are complicated. I think it is fine for Warner to question Trott’s courage on the field and completely out of line to do it in a press conference. You get sledging at every level of cricket in Australia. For the most part it’s just abuse rather than the witty banter of cricket folk-lore. As a result, I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling a tail-ender to get ready “for a broken fucking arm.” In fact, I think it is a pretty weak sledge unless you are doing a double bluff and are setting him up for a yorker. From what I can see, most Australians agree with me. Daniel Brettig has even suggested that most Australians now think more highly of Clarke for being “hard and uncompromising”
Whilst Warners comments questioning Trott’s courage have come under some scrutiny, Channel 9 seem to have played a “get out of jail free card”. During the coverage of the last test, Slatter and Lloyd were giggling like schoolboys when they showed a mocked up hotspot graphic showing Trott shitting his pants whilst facing Johnson. Fair enough in a late night comedy show, completely out of line during the coverage of the game. (and yes, I’ve posted that comment elsewhere because it really pisses me off) I’m not sure who knew what and when they knew it but if there was even a whisper that Trott had problems, it’s unforgivable. Even worse when you consider that Slatter has a history of bipolar disorder and once contemplated suicide.
I need to go back to work and stop wasting everyone’s time with my rants.
I think it’s really sad that having been asked to tone things down today by the ICC, Australia have basically said ‘get lost’. Cricket should be played hard, but when the captain of your team has just been fined for inappropriate abuse, and another of your players universally condemned for comments in a press conference, a little bit of introspection or reflection in surely required. At least pay lip service to the ICC.
Having been on the receiving end of numerous beatings over the last few years, it’s really unsightly to have the Aussies strutting around like macho men all of a sudden. It’s incredibly childish, and frankly professional sportsmen (on both sides, so I include Anderson in this) should learn to bloody grow up. Cricket is descending into boxing at the moment, with lots of pre and post match promises to ‘knock the other out’. Quite pathetic. What next, Don King turning up to promote the Adelaide test??!!
All this stuff about England being scared is total nonsense anyway. Yes, Trott was scared, but we all know why now. Cook, Root etc took it all in their stride. Johnson isn’t some new weapon. England have seen him off many times in the past, and they know he has good days and bad. Why would they suddenly be physically scared now, in Mitch’s 12 test (or whatever it is) against them. It’s simply not credible, and it just makes everyone involved look ridiculous.
The Australian Captain was fined after his comment was broadcast by an inept broadcaster (Channel 9) – Jimmy Anderson, who threatened to punch an Australian player, however wasn’t fined as his comment wasn’t broadcast…
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually like the way many Australian players approach “sledging” and I do believe they overdo it (Eg. after every delivery) but I’ll defend their right to play the way they wish to. It’s test cricket for heavens sake not tiddlywinks.
P.S. Surely you aren’t serious with your insinuation in the final paragraph that the Australian collective cricketing community have sent a succession of players into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression?
1. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen
2. Mental disintegration is all part of the game. I feel very sorry for Trott and his family and hope he recovers fully and quickly. At the same time he is just another in a string of England players to melt down under the pressure of touring. Surely the ECB need to have better psyche testing for their squad as part of the selection process.
3. Why is this all of a sudden a burning issue? I don’t remember reading many articles decrying abuse of players while the grounds were ringing with hour after tedious hour of “He bowls to the left……”. Why is it acceptable / funny when it’s the Barmy Army (now a commercial, profit making company with sophisticated infrastructure and resources) but not when it’s a group of kids who are trying to compete with them without the education or maturity to dress it up in a “song book”
4. Warner is a knob. He should shut up until he has something worthwhile to say.
5. Clarke was stepping in after Anderson had threatened to punch Bailey, he just forgot he was so close to the stump mike. No points to either of them but you can’t criticise one without the other.
6. For the Australian press Warne is the gift that just keeps on giving, of course they won’t leave him alone, he’s the one who’s turned himself into a caricature. In general they’re no better or worse than the English tabloids.
7. Who wants to win at all costs? Stuart Broad apparently. (Telegraph Aug. 19)
8. Of course Andy Flower wants to stop the on field sledging. His team aren’t as good at it as the Aussies.
9. Sledging need be neither witty or amusing. Just effective.
10. Why is it that articles claiming that the boundaries have been crossed only appear after England have lost.
As is so often true, there’s a big difference between the armchair punditry and what the players actually say. The English players haven’t complained about sledging. In fact, the Australians, South Africans and others have hinted that the English are amongst the most vociferous and effective sledgers in the game. The difference between them and the Australians is they’re more subtle about it: they don’t (often) brag about it in the press and they don’t get caught. The Australians’ mistake is to be so public about their strategy, be so unsubtle about what they’re doing, and to add in the element of (what can look like) physical intimidation. When Warner runs at a batsman snarling, or the players crowd around a lone English player, it looks intimidatory regardless of what they’re saying. What the English are saying is probably just as bad, but they don’t give themselves away as much with body language. They smile while they abusing people, Clarke points his finger and gesticulates.
If you read Duncan Fletcher’s autobiography (although I wouldn’t recommend it) he’s pretty open about wanting players in the side who can unsettle the opposition with chat. He was a big fan of Prior and commended him for his talent for intimidating batsmen. He was pretty harsh on other players for *not* sledging enough.
I don’t think Flower’s suggestion of a summit was to stop sledging. The commentators who could listen to the stump mic uninterrupted – all of whom have seen the sharp end of international cricket – said things were getting well beyond mere sledging. As David Lloyd said: “I’ve heard some stuff in forty years o’ cricket but some o’ the things David Warner wer sayin’ wer evil”. Warner himself says he went too far, but that he did it deliberately. I think Flower’s concern is not the sledging, but that things might go a step further and there will be an ‘incident’.
Both teams seem pretty content that it’s a part of their game and as long as they leave it on the pitch it’s fine. Warner and Siddle screaming abuse at a batsman after they had already won the match seemed over the top and gave it a personal edge, though. Likewise, the complaint about Warner’s comments about Trott were that he had made them off the pitch in a press conference, breaching a pretty strict standard amongst teams. An Aussie journalist writing in the SMH who was at the press conference made it clear it wasn’t just an off-the-cuff remark but that Warner had been waiting for the opportunity to lay in to Trott, seemingly in revenge for some slight on the pitch. The interesting post-script to that was that at the end of the day’s play after Warner’s century he was whipped away for interviews before the English had the opportunity to congratulate him. Only two of the English hung around for the hour he was gone specifically to talk to Warner. One of those men was Trott…
To be honest, I don’t think the sledging had much to do with it, I think the English just played shockingly badly, as they sometimes do. The Australians sledged them just as much when they won in Australia last time. The likes of Malcolm Conn and the Telegraph like a narrative, and also like to believe they’re the twelfth man on the pitch, barracking for the Aussies, and the idea of a mean gutsy Aussie side who are too tough for wussy poms just suits them. Cook and Root and Bell got heaps and didn’t seem bothered. I was at the game and Broad copped more abuse than any man should hear in a lifetime, but in other circumstances would have got MOTM.
Without Trott this whole ‘mental disintegration’ narrative doesn’t really hold water.
Well said Tristan. Nobody is moaning about sledging – and the article does mention Anderson and the Barmy Army too. Cricket should be played hard. However, what is going too far – which the Aussies are exclusively to blame for – are the public comments: Lehmann saying on radio that Broad is a blatant cheat and he hopes he cries and goes home. Absolutely lacking class in every way. How many English players have called Aussies ‘blatant cheats’ in the media? It’s just not the done thing. And talking of having a good whinge when they lose, don’t you think the Borad thing was blown out of all proportion – all he did was what Aussies have done for centuries i.e. never, ever walk. Are they all cheats too?!
The Warner comments in the press conference also over-stepped the mark, as has the Aussies point blank refusal to tone things things down at the ICC’s request. Considering the Trott situation, a little diplomacy is required. Nobody is really expecting either side to stop sledging in reality, but show a little tact for heaven’s sake. The truth is, the Aussies have finally won a game, so it’s their first opportunity to strut around and flex their muscles for well over a year – and they aint going to pass that up. They simply can’t resist – even if it makes them look like cave men.
RE Aussies never walk.
Don’t mean to be picky, but perhaps Cricket Insider could have a look at this clip.
Yes, I should have said ‘all aussies except Gilchrist’ to be accurate. Gilly is always brought up as the exception to the rule. I’ve just read Ian Chappell’s comments re: the Anderson / Clarke spat. The Aussie press has tried to pretend it was all Jimmy’s fault for threatening to punch Bailey. Utter dross according to Chappell, who was listening to the live stump mic feed. He said the abuse Anderson was getting was disgusting and well over the top. He congratulated Jimmy for standing up for himself, and was ultra critical of the Aussie players. He said he’s sick of 2nd rate cricketers thinking they’re hard men by mouthing off all the time. Go look it up. More evidence that even Aussies in the know believe their side is well out of order. I just don’t understand why cricketers feel the need to act like thugs. Play the game hard, have the odd word, but overall let your play do the talking.
English players have called people cheats before.
Warner is an embarrassment off the field, rightly they’ve decided to muzzle him for the rest of the series.
As a brisbanite who went to the first 2 days of the gabba test, I was embarrassed at the behaviour of the sections of the crowd who repeatedly hurled abuse at Broad, KP and Trott. They were egged on by the redneck rag aka the courier mail which is the saddest excuse for a newspaper I have ever read. I agree with the comments that sledging should stay on the field. I did not approve of Warner making the comments about Trott in the media. I also do not approve of a team captain engaging in the comments that Clarke made to Anderson, just another reason why he is the most undeserving individual to have the honour of captaining Australia.
The only reason people remember that Gilchrist “walked” is because it is so rare for any player regardless of which team they play for to “walk”. And did he walk every time? Only he knows for sure.
The interesting thing about the above clip is that he actually waited a bit before walking. Its like he thought it over and decided it was the right thing to do. I admire him but I don’t believe batsmen should walk. The umpire makes the decision and the batsmen accepts it be it right or wrong.
Can’t say I agree. If you know you’re out you should walk. I completely understand that players are under huge pressure and it is easier said than done but that does not change the basic truth of the argument.
My reason for posting the clip wasn’t to try and show one player or side being better than another. It’s more that these debates often descend into sweeping and biased generalisations.
In this case “all he did was what Aussies have done for centuries i.e. never, ever walk. Are they all cheats too?!”
There’s a valuable lesson all defence barristers learn early in their training: sometimes it’s better to let an accusation stand unchallenged than put a counter-argument and invite the prosecution to reinforce the original point.
Of the many hundreds of thousands of dismissals of Australians in professional cricket, that clip is the only one that’s ever used to refute the argument. Are there really no other clips of Australians walking? Are there no other clips of Adam Gilchrist walking at least? If not, it just proves that *an* Australian once walked ten years ago, for which he copped a huge amount of shit from both his team mates and the Australian public.
If it were a sweeping generalization, one would think there would be more than a single example from a decade ago to disprove it. In fact, there seem to be more clips of Michael Clarke standing his ground after hitting it in to the hands of a fielder off the face of the bat than there are of Australians walking.
Given the ease with which one can find quotes of Australian captains saying things such as “It’s not the Australian way”, “Australians don’t walk”, “I don’t believe in walking”, etc, it doesn’t seem to be all that biased.
I don’t really care either way, but I’d say it was covered by ‘fair comment’.
I recognise that the following is futile because you won’t be able to resist having the last word, but the point is that to walk is sporting and “in the spirit of the game”. To not walk when you know for a fact that you are out is dishonest.
There can be no other interpretation, if you know you are out and you stay, you are a cheat. You are cheating yourself, the spectators, the opposing team and the supporters of both sides. The parallel is golf. The only effective umpire on a golf course is your conscience, if you would rather win knowing that you did the wrong thing than lose with pride in yourself then you are less of a man.
That this is not the accepted point of view of most players (Australian, English or any other) is immaterial.
This is why Wayne Madsen won the BBC/MCC Spirit of Cricket award for exceptional sportsmanship.
The argument that “all the others do it and therefore it should be OK for me too” is spurious.
The only reason that Australians such as myself are so aggrieved by the smug English retreat of “he did nothing wrong according to the rules” is that we had to listen to years of tripe from exactly the same people bitching that while they were getting hammered time after time by Australia it was OK because they (unlike Australia) were playing within the spirit of the game.
Now that England have finally won something it is a little galling to be told that this same “spirit of the game” is a fiction and we should go and read the rule book.
Well, that’s all lovely and everything, but my comment was explicitly about whether “Aussies never walk” is a fair comment or not.
“Now that England have finally won something it is a little galling to be told that this same “spirit of the game” is a fiction and we should go and read the rule book.”
That’s something you should really address to the Australian coach.
As to your last point, this is an open forum. If you want to continue commenting, that’s fine. If you don’t want to, that’s also fine. But accusing people of last-wordism and arbitrarily deciding yours must be the last comment before everyone moves on and changes subject is a little rich, to say the least.
You’ve been in Switzerland too long, mate – you’ve gone soft. (awesome place – I’m somewhat jealous)
I’ll start walking when the fielding side stops appealing for things that they know are “not out”.