England news January 12, 2012

Harmison faces up to depression

ESPNcricinfo staff

Steve Harmison has become the latest England cricketer to face up to the possibility that he was afflicted by clinical depression during his international career.

In the BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side Of Sport, Harmison admitted a doctor raised the possibility that the bouts of homesickness and anxiety attacks that characterised his career might be extreme enough to be classified as severe depression.

Harmison's problems were most severe during England's 2004-5 tour of South Africa when, by his own estimation "I realised that I had a problem and was going to have to sort it out."

His admission follows Marcus Trescothick's enforced early retirement from international cricket because of mental health issues and Michael Yardy's premature departure from the 2011 World Cup after a lengthy fight with depression.

Andrew Flintoff also speculated depression might have been behind his prolonged drinking bouts as captain of a whitewashed England side during the 2006/7 tour of Australia.

Harmison took only nine wickets at an average of 72 runs during the South Africa tour before recovering the following summer to play a central role alongside Flintoff in England's Ashes success.

"I was the No. 1 bowler in the world at the time and maybe there was a perception that everybody was looking at me thinking we've got to bowl South Africa out," said Harmison. "You have got to take five wickets each time, you have got to do this, you have got to do that, you have got to carry the attack, and here I was struggling inside.

"It never really transformed into something on the field. That was my get-out really - walking over that white line."

Harmison's problems began even before the Test series began, frustrating his coach at the time, Duncan Fletcher, whose relationship with Harmison and Flintoff deteriorated as the years progressed.

"We went into Jo'burg and it was the first time really where I went into a trip where I was having one of these dog days, or episodes, as the doctor said to me afterwards. That was the first time I had gone onto a trip feeling like that.

"I had a bad first week. I couldn't train. I was struggling to breathe, I was hyperventilating and that's when it dawned on me that I had a problem and I was going to have to sort it out.

"I was panicky, the anxiety was hitting me and I had a lump in my throat, I was having bad heads, I was shaking, I didn't want to let go off the ball. There was one night when I went back into my room and looked into the mirror and thought 'what's the problem?' That is when it really dawned on me, 'You have a problem, you're not weak, you are going to have to sort it out.

"That was when depression was first mentioned. I still can't get to the answer of what made me feel that way."

Flintoff told that his lowest moment came in Australia when he broke down and cried in front of his father on Chrisitmas Eve in Melbourne and pronounced himself a failure. England, although aware of his problems, chose not to replace him as captain with Andrew Strauss for the one-day series because Fletcher feared, quite wrongly, a backlash from the media.

"I was at an all-time low personally and professionally even though I was captain of England," Flintoff said. "But I didn't want to get out of bed and I didn't want to face people."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • m0se on January 13, 2012, 20:40 GMT

    One is more likely to be depressed in a western society than an eastern society or more likely to report that one is depressed in a western society than an eastern society. Take your pick. Either way, former players speaking about depression will help future players cope better.

  • vatsap on January 13, 2012, 18:00 GMT

    Honestly what's with all these English cricketers. Most people suffer some sort of loneliness or homesickness when away from family. I cant imagine how it would have been for cricketers (since we are on the topic) of the 60s & 70s to travel alien lands when communication was what not it is now and people's understanding of different culture was also not that great. Every autobiography has some stuff... which the press magnfies further.

  • dummy4fb on January 13, 2012, 14:41 GMT

    I think Cloudmess has made a valid point in that cricket is a test of nerve as well as skill. However, what any of this has to do with one or two 'overseas' cricketers playing for England, I don't know. Perhaps its a chance for supporters of teams like India, Pakistan et al to have a whinge after they have been thrashed yet again.

  • Iamnotboredofcricket on January 13, 2012, 13:49 GMT

    "what's with the English cricketers and depression? "

    You try living in England. LOL...

  • voma on January 13, 2012, 10:56 GMT

    The most depressing thing was watching Steve Harmisson waste a god given talent . The guy had everything , he could of easily beaten bothams record as Englands highest wicket taker .

  • 2929paul on January 13, 2012, 9:42 GMT

    Everyone here who has posted comments like "man up", "it's an excuse", "what's with these guys" are showing themselves up. It is ignorance of the illness that has stopped people admitting to having depression in the past. Understanding of it and recognising it earlier could help many in extending their careers or improving their quality of life. Who is to say there isn't depression within other cricketing nations which leads to poor performances? British sportsmen are starting to open up about this now as attitudes change and it can only be a good thing. At its worst, depression can lead to people feeling they need to take their own lives. And it has happened within international sport recently.Joke about that if you want.

  • dummy4fb on January 13, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    whats up with these english cricketers?? DEPRESSION!!!!?????? Is that why they adopted policy of aquiring foreign players so that they can make international tours??

  • dummy4fb on January 13, 2012, 4:24 GMT

    Good on Harmison for openly admitting it. I see Trescothick, Flintoff and now Harmison had a tough time with this mental illness. Myself I have depression at times. Good on them tellling the cricket world

  • Nish8738 on January 13, 2012, 3:04 GMT

    Andrew senior. the truth is also that they havn't played a test series in india,SL,pakistan in last 3 years. the dubai tour will decide if they deserve to be number one. they were almost beaten by the ICC XI.

  • dummy4fb on January 13, 2012, 2:57 GMT

    Flintoff should never have been captain for that tour, it was an appallingly stupid management decision when Strauss was clearly (and continues to prove it) the better man. And indeed, the selectors give it all this about rotating the squad etc yet only when it suits them. Harmison's and most certainly Trescothick's careers could have been prolonged if they had been allowed to sit out certain tours. It would have been a great opportunity to blood new players in difficult situations but as usually the horse was pushed until it broke.

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