Maddinson exit puts spotlight on players' welfare
Nic Maddinson's withdrawal from a second consecutive Sheffield Shield match for New South Wales after his omission from the Test side has exposed an old wound in Australian cricket - the pain of being dropped and the expectation that players should know how to handle it on their own.
While there was a time when Australian players found out they were to be omitted via radio or newspaper reports, or in the case of David Hookes an airport attendant in Brisbane changing his baggage tag from Sydney to Adelaide, support for the omitted player remains sketchy, and often the cause for months or even years of dejection and confusion.
The hyper-competitive nature of Australian and international cricket, not only on the field but also off it in the scramble for places at the top of the tree, has often left players spinning. The former Test opener Chris Rogers has recounted his sense of feeling like a failure and desire to move states soon after he was picked and dropped for one Test in Perth in January 2008.
Later that same summer, the fast bowler Shaun Tait took an indefinite break from cricket after being picked then dropped and feeling isolated within the team environment. Even Michael Clarke has spoken of the tearful state he descended into upon being left out of the Test side for the first time in late 2005.
Australian spin bowlers in the wake of Shane Warne were used and then discarded. The likes of Brad Hogg, Beau Casson, Jason Krejza and Nathan Hauritz were never the same bowlers at first-class level after being jettisoned from the Test team. Hogg retired prematurely from international cricket before reinventing himself as a Twenty20 operator. Casson's heart condition worsened and forced him out of the game a couple of years after his puzzling omission from a Test tour to India after performing creditably on Test debut.
Ed Cowan, who was himself dropped unceremoniously from the Test XI on the 2013 Ashes tour, said the manner of a player's exit from the Australian side should be looked at in terms of mental health and welfare. Simply expecting a player to go away and score more runs or take more wickets in domestic cricket while ignoring the mess of emotions that results in, is a lot to ask for.
"I don't think the Australian Test team manages any kind of exit very well to be honest," Cowan said on Thursday. "From my own personal experience it feels like you're left at a train station, you look up and the train is five stops flying down the tracks.
"It's certainly one aspect that I think could be managed better, particularly if they're going to churn through a few players. If they're going to churn through players then Cricket Australia need to be aware that there's going to be some burn and that they're going to have to work extra hard on the welfare side to look after guys that they spit out the other side.
"It depends how it happens - whether you feel like you're playing well or you've been poorly treated. It's different for every individual. Then it's a question of time healing the wound and really wanting deep inside to get better and reclaim that place. That whole process doesn't happen overnight. It can take a season, four weeks, sometimes two seasons. It's up to the individual but it can be a tough time."
Player welfare has been a recent focus of the Australian Cricketers Association, presently in talks with CA over a new player-payment MOU. In 2015 the association committed nearly $30 million of the cash from their share of Australian cricket revenue to assist the welfare of past players - many of whom fall on hard times following the end of their careers.
"I can't speak highly enough in terms of their welfare programme and getting guys and managing their mental health," Cowan said of the ACA. "[But] I certainly think it's one aspect that Cricket Australia and the Test team could improve."
The Sheffield Shield round starting on Friday will feature numerous players at different points in their relationship with the national team. Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa and Sam Heazlett are among the players demobbed from the ODI tour of New Zealand, while George Bailey and Peter Nevill are two players recently discarded from the international arena.
As for Maddinson, it remains to be seen how long he will take time out from the game, having played three Tests and then found himself missing out on selection for India. "He did have a great opportunity with that last red-ball Test but sometimes the damage has already been done," Cowan said.
"If you feel as though you're already under the pump it's pretty hard to produce, particularly as a new guy coming into the team. He'll come back stronger when he chooses to really flick that switch of desire wanting to play and we'll support him through that."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig