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.