Why it is important to question the narrative provided for Trott’s Ashes departure

Jonathan Trott’s departure from England’s tour of Australia over the winter has been very much at the forefront of cricket conversations recently. With Sky’s hour long interview special (‘Jonathan Trott: Burnout’) screened yesterday, the issue has been reignited.

Michael Vaughan is a man who I have had very little time for since his retirement from cricket. I am not a particular fan of his commentary or journalism. But I believe he has raised an important point which is being ignored during the discussion over Trott’s departure. He said that:

‘There is a danger we are starting to use stress-related illness and depression too quickly as tags for players under pressure’.

When we look back at the 25th of November, and the press conference Andy Flower gave, announcing Trott’s departure, he explained it as such:

‘Trotty has been suffering from a stress-related condition for quite a while’.

Now, of course, one’s initial reaction to this statement is of empathy and sympathy for Jonathan Trott’s plight. Trott has made himself into arguably England’s greatest Test and ODI number three batsmen of the last forty years (at the very least), and has displayed a charming sense of humour and personal demeanour away from the game. He is, I’m sure, a man most England fans have a lot of time for. Sure, you get the odd Bob Willis who relentlessly hounds him for a variety of reasons, but Trott has been a fixture in an immensely successful English team, and a key figure in that squad.

But once we are past this initial reaction to Flower’s statement, where does the mind go, what do we think about the stated explanation for his departure?

Well in spite of the carefully formed phrase: ‘stress-related condition’, it is almost impossible to not associate that poorly defined explanation as being euphemistic for possibly: ‘depression’.

Cricket has a strange history with depression. Obviously we have recent high profile cases (think of Trescothick, who was so cruelly robbed by the illness of even further international honours) of currently playing, and retired professionals ‘coming out’ as sufferers, and looking further back, Peter Roebuck and David Firth have written books which are either imbued with the issue or directly about it.

Nobody within the ECB or the ranks of the England team came out and explicitly stated that Jonathan Trott was ‘depressed’; but one cannot blame the majority for instantly associating Trott’s ‘stress-related condition’ to prior instances of players suffering with depression.

Due to this, a very important issue has become lost over rather tribal arguments between the ‘stiff upper-lip’ complainers and those (rightfully) opposed to these retrograde opinions.

I can’t help but feel Flower and the ECB have managed to avoid closer scrutiny, I agree with Vaughan in feeling as though we have been ‘conned’ here.

As is now clear, Jonathan Trott was ‘burnt out’, he was psychologically exhausted and could not cope with the pressure he placed on himself as well as those put on him by others. Now this is a psychological condition, this is a ‘stress-related condition’, let’s make this clear. But why did Flower not say this during the press conference, why was psychological and physical exhaustion not a provided explanation for Trott’s departure, just one Test into a series viewed as the pinnacle for English cricket?

Ultimately, the lack of definition provided when Flower stated: ‘stress-related condition’, created the situation whereby people would associate Trott with Trescothick, with Yardy. The majority would assume Trott was suffering from depression, which they did.

Clearly, Trott’s illness is – at the very least, partially – due to the exploitative scheduling of the ECB, where they expect players to be away from their home for 260 days a year, where they expect players to make themselves available without exception. Look at the furore which surrounded Pietersen’s wishes to retire from ODI cricket, a management fiasco which the ECB assumedly saw as just another nail in the coffin of Pietersen’s international career.

The narrative provided by the ECB and Flower could be read as being employed in part to deflect further scrutiny on a dressing room and regime which was falling apart.

When one delves further, isn’t it rather sinister that the ECB would be willing to obscure their words on such an issue, in order to prevent ‘outsiders’ from shining a light onto the pressures imposed upon the modern English international cricketer?

I believe that questioning the narrative provided by those in high places within the English management structure  for Trott’s departure is not complicit to demeaning Trott’s illness, or psychological neuroses as a whole; it is not complicit to calling Trott a ‘coward’ or a ‘pussy’.

By questioning the narrative provided, we have an opportunity to display the exploitative demands of the money-hungry ECB on the players, and the extent to which they will spin and manipulate in order to protect their interests in as insidious a manner as they see fit to employ.

By questioning the semantics, we can hopefully prevent players from suffering in silence as Trott did, and many others have. Hopefully, as well as wishing Trott well, we can dissect and question the typical ‘management-talk’, which only serves to obscure the issue and utilise a very serious issue, as a way to legitimise the continuation of the structures which are asphyxiating English cricket.

 

 

 

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I’m Sorry Australia

Before the Ashes started, in late October, I posted this article:

<https://legsideline.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/how-australia-can-reclaim-the-ashes/&gt;

I want to apologise on the behalf of all followers of English cricket; we clearly ain’t used to the success that you Australians take as red.

You guys can keep the Ashes: thanks for Nick Cave.

 

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A battle for the middle (of-the-table) ages

Cricket has gone a bit weird over the last few weeks, as it has a tendency to do on occasion. Mitchell Johnson did alright, Australia did too, then Jonathan Trott flew home from the tour due to a stress related illness.

It’d probably be fair to say that Trott would have been one of the least-guessed-at members of the squad to be suffering from such an ailment: he’s sometimes been viewed upon as a batting automaton, and someone who would seemingly give his left bollock to play for England. But as anyone who has experienced an anxiety, or stress related illness would attest to: these things can just crop up whenever and strike one down completely. My thoughts are with him.

Tonight, the REAL battle of the southern hemisphere begins as New Zealand take on the West Indies in the first Test of their three match series in beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Dunedin (how I pine). As this frying pan Ashes spits, the South Africa-India series bubbles, Pakistan and Sri Lanka get set to roast, and I run out of kitchen-related puns, one could forgive the cricket fan for thinking that this encounter between the sixth and eighth rated Test sides is a lesser priority than these other fixtures.

But I wouldn’t agree, because I’m seemingly that kind of guy.

New Zealand go into this series, somehow without a Test victory all year. After gloriously trashing England in March, New Zealand couldn’t cap that performance off with a win. 0-0, looked good, but getting crushed in South Africa and England didn’t, so it’s been a largely sub-par year. It’s now two years since that glorious Test in Hobart, an epochal victory which seemed set to usher in a new age of Kiwi decentness; but since then, it’s mainly been a stuttering affair, staggering individual performances and matches aside, New Zealand have underperformed: the 0-2 defeat in the Caribbean last summer being perhaps the most disappointing failure.

That series marked the beginning of a run of six consecutive Test victories in a row for the boys in maroon, A RETURN TO THE GLORY DAYS! Well, not quite, as two of these were against a woefully mis-matched and underprepared Zimbabwe; their latest victories came in Bangladesh, which shouldn’t be scoffed at these days (New Zealand looked – in spite of the rain – fairly flat in drawing 0-0 there a few months ago). Destroyed in the ‘Sachin’ Tests, the West Indies looked like the stripper-at-the-party they were probably supposed to play; nonetheless it was disappointing to see such performances from an ever improving side.

This is what makes this series such an intriguing one: these two teams are primarily young ones, with talented players who could invite mimicry and adoration in the future: Kane Williamson (though missing from this Test) is a future Kiwi captain and potentially one of the best batsmen the country may have produced in the modern era; Ish Sodhi is a legspinner, in New Zealand! The likes of Darren Bravo, Kieran Powell, Trent Boult and Aaron Redmond (har de har) could play a hundred Tests, or hit a seminal ton, or bowl a spell remembered throughout the history of the game. Though New Zealand and the West Indies could be considered to be at a low ebb of their cricketing history, there is so much bloody promise, and hey: a Test match is a Test match, there is already too few of them played a year, enjoy it.

The match itself is sure to be an interesting conflict, as the West Indies are probably going to be forced to battle with Arctic winds at some point of the Test. Minus key performers such as Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach, a lot will be expected from their young top order and the infamously inconsistent shoulders of Tino Best. New Zealand’s seam attack looks strong, and the faith shown in Sodhi is lovely. There’s all sorts to be positive about, so bugger the Ashes for a few days, and enjoy a proper tussle.

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Australia, I’m sorry.

In the glorious violence of boxing, there is an oft used expression: when a boxer enters the ring he doesn’t want to come in cold; he will want to enter the ring having broken a light sweat in the training room, this way his limbs will be loose to throw bombs and his face ready to be battered by several hundred punches over a weird-as-hell 40-odd minutes.

Yeah, it’s strange that boxing is still a multi-billion dollar industry really.

Now I consider myself to be a decent guy who can admit when he’s wrong; I also consider myself as a rather less than typical cricket fan, in that I primarily enjoy the spectacle of the sport than the performance of my ‘team’.

When I tweeted a few days before this series that Australia didn’t stand a chance and that their defeat was guaranteed, I felt slightly dirty: I’m not used to making such popular statements. I mean Christ, me and Sir Beefy Botham were in agreement. I knew then that I had fucked up.

As we stand here, at the end of the first three days of play at Brisbane, Australia seem nailed on certainties to take a one-nil lead in this Ashes series. England have two days to bat out with eight wickets in hand; the way they’ve been batting and Australia bowling, I can’t see them lasting tomorrow.

Australia over days two and three, have performed as close to perfect as I think they can manage. Michael Clarke’s captaincy has been superb; the fielding electric; most bowlers and batsman have kept things going, always moving forward; David Warner went and clicked and Mitchell Johnson has seemingly resurrected the venom of Jeff Thomson whilst bearing the moustache of a prostitute murdering trucker. Australia have been exciting and deserve to be lauded: they’ve defied expectations and deserve to win this first Test.

England have been insipid in the face of Australia’s verve and energy. Like the boxer who comes in cold, England have been knocked down by a fierce counter, thrown by the lithe Australians in response to a limp lunge. Have England come in stiff and unprepared or are Australia performing to their maximum?

Either way, I wish to apologise to all of my Aussie friends for joining the English rabble-rousers.

An Australian victory, and the way they’ve performed in this Test so far in trying to achieve this feat, is important for cricket. Let’s hope this carries on and we have a fierce Ashes series.

 

 

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India: the new Australia?

India took the seven match bilateral ODI series against Australia 3-2 with a victory in the final fixture yesterday.

I can’t be a complete killjoy: there were some pretty exciting moments during the series; however I can’t really recall these brief flashes of excitement, as they remain merely dotted amongst a vast beige expanse of dull ball-bullying on the flattest of tracks.

Sure, seeing a man thwack, tonk, bang and boom a cricket ball 90 meters in the air and into a screaming crowd is an exciting spectacle to encounter; seeing it 107 times in four and a half limited over games (one was abandoned without a ball bowled, the other rain disrupted and ultimately a no-result) causes one to become numbed to the event, as the very act of hitting a ball so hard and far loses its meaning, and it almost ceases to be an event.

The bland BCCI endorsed and (assumedly) bar-coded and micro-chipped commentators would yell and hyperbolise as I yawned and turned away to read some poetry (that one was for the lecturers).

What I got from this series mainly, was yet another worrying reminder of a certain thing that has really irked me about this young Indian side…

They’re just too Australian.

Ask an Australian about the characteristics emblematic of the archetypal Australian cricketer, and they’ll probably answer: ‘G’day mate, well, he’s a top bloke, and crikey, a helluva tough competitor who’ll give his all at all times, but still be up for a pint at the end of play’ or something like that, right?

Whereas everyone else in the World: ‘Arrogant, aggressive, petulant and f***ing tough to beat’.

Think Steve Waugh, Allan Border etc. etc.

Now this young Indian side, through the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have displayed some of the less savoury aspects of this stereotype: namely a crass arrogance and lack of sportsmanship. But unlike the redeeming factor of mostly all Australian cricketers to have played the game, these players have so far displayed an utter lack of class and respect, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in love, cricket and war.

Shikhar Dhawan’s mocking of Shane Watson’s injury was a disgraceful act, that only displayed a lack of manners that left a sour taste in the mouth of all those who enjoy watching such a talented young man as Dhawan bat.

In my roundup of last year’s cricket (read it here) I selected – controversially – Virat Kohli as my ‘villain of 2012’. What I wrote then, is relevant in this article also, so allow me to quote myself:

I find him to define the modern Indian cricketer: as possessive of a self-entitled arrogance that belies his inexperience and relative lack of achievement in comparison to some of his contemporaries. I think he is a fine batsman with a fantastic future ahead of him, but would Sachin have celebrated as coarsely as he did in Adelaide upon the arrival of his first Test ton? His failures are also those of his side and of the general outlook that Indian cricket has been guilty of this year. I hope he matures quickly as he may be forced to, something in Indian cricket must change for them to return to the force they once were on the playing field only a couple of years ago.

Would Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid have played with the needless aggression that these young Indians do? No, and this group of players can hardly use the excuse that they need such conflict to ‘gee’ themselves up: Cheteshwar Pujara is just one of several current, prodigiously gifted Indians who play with a respect and elegance that is reminiscent of the players I have just mentioned, and that shows up his young compatriots for their coarse adoption of ‘Australian’ attitudes.

I’m not saying that playing hard is not O.K; there is just a difference between playing the game with controlled aggression, and being dickheads.

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How Australia can reclaim the Ashes

They can’t.

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Why Dean Brownlie should be playing (not Corey Anderson)

New Zealand have ended the first day of their two match Test series in Bangladesh on a thoroughly respectable score of 280-5. A good 73 by old ‘two meter Peter’ Fulton, and yet another Test century for Kane Williamson, the batsman most likely to stimulate an unexpected (though not entirely unwanted), spontaneous orgasm; well, alongside Moeen Ali of course…

Anyway, things are fairly even in that match it seems, the late Bangladeshi breakthroughs put a bit of a gloss over their performance in the field, but we shall see how it all turns out.

What did happen though, was the New Zealand selectors replaced Dean Brownlie with the young all-rounder Corey Anderson. Now I don’t know too much about Corey Anderson (from the few times I’ve seen him, he looked fairly: ‘limited-overs specialist’), but I do happen to harbour a relatively individual love for Mr Dean Brownlie, so here is a short list of reasons why I believe he should have been selected:

1) He’s from Perth, which has a cool aura about it, especially for a gritty middle-order Kiwi batsman. Very different, very hipster.

2) Being from Perth, he has this interesting compulsion to play everything off of the back-foot: but not in the expected, Mike Hussey kind of way; more in a misguided, I’m-not-sure-where-this-ball-is-pitching kind of way; he’d probably try to play the piano exclusively with his back-foot (not recommended). I could never conjure up the bravery to play forward (barring my expertly timed jaunts down the wicket of course…), thus I became something of an expert in the back-foot straight defense, nudge-type thing. The fact Dean Brownlie and I share some technical defeciencies is heartening.

3) He is really terrible at playing spin, so watching him play Bangladesh, in Bangladesh (a nation seemingly populated exclusively by left-arm slow bowlers) would have been – at the very least – entertaining.

4) He somehow manages to look like his team-mate James Franklin, and High School Musical’s Zac Efron at the same time. Google it. That’s impressive.

5) On a serious note: three of his four half-centuries, and his only century have come against South Africa and Australia, in South Africa and Australia. These were serious innings’ against very strong teams, these kind of performances aren’t flukes.

6) He is effectively a black haired Paul Collingwood, and everyone liked Paul Collingwood.

7) He has very nice GREEN eyes.

8) He has one of the most psychopathic-looking of Cricinfo profile pictures.

9) Dean is a better name than Corey. It isn’t a fantastic name, but come on: what the hell is ‘Corey’?

10) He’s an Australian playing for New Zealand. Very different. Very hipster.

Sure he only averages 29.62, but he’s worth a space obviously, at least until King Jesse returns.

(This article is intended to be light hearted. I really admire Brownlie as a player, and think he is a very good batsman. I also want to congratulate Corey Anderson on making his Test debut. Good luck to the both of them).

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