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."