The Ashes 2013-14 November 26, 2013

Time for Trott to seek new truths

England's vast support network provides for a player's every needs. Perhaps in a curious way that is part of the problem

England could not have been more anxious to underline that they cared about the well-being of Jonathan Trott. The ECB's outgoing managing director, Hugh Morris was anxious to stress it at every opportunity. So, too, did the team director Andy Flower. There is no intention to question their good intentions because both are decent men.

But high-level sport burns people, and always will, and there was no doubt about the acrid smell in the air. Trott, as committed a cricketer as it is possible to be, has become collateral damage in an Ashes series that England's captain, Alastair Cook, had described as a war. There have been six of these wars in a little over four months and there are still four to come until early in the New Year.

This is how we like our sport: hard, unyielding, the outfield scarred with winners and losers. Failure has never been less forgiven. But as Trott flew back to the UK - and to imagine his state of mind on that endless flight is to reflect upon a heavily-curtained exhaustion, a feeling of nothingness, that we can barely contemplate - a comment by an England player last summer came to mind.

For his own sake, his identity will remain secret because his assessment went to the heart of England's approach. "It can feel as if there is no escape," he said. "It as if everything you do is being assessed, as if every little thing you do is being marked and analysed and stored away. If you are not careful, it can wear you down. It's incredibly difficult to come to terms with it."

England talk proudly of their extensive "support network", and there is no larger or more committed backroom staff in cricket. But the primary focus of England's support network, naturally enough, is to win cricket matches. Duty of Care is the fall back position if the overriding desire for victory malfunctions. The "bottom line", as Flower had it, is simply that England fight back in the second Test in Adelaide.

It was revealing that Flower compared Trott's long-term management of his illness to a player managing a long-running hamstring problem. In both cases, the top player wants to be fit to play and the management's priority is to get that player on the field. It is not entirely clear how concerned England were ahead of the first Test, but Trott's state of mind will have been carefully monitored. They patched him up and got them out there, and it is exactly what he would have wanted. You have to put yourself on the line for sporting glory and financial rewards few can dream of.

England's improved performances over the past decade have been won in a very English way: by the use of their financial muscle and superior organisation to measure the impact of everything which might impact on England's performance to a small degree. We have recently alighted on the fact that there is a 72-page England cookbook and, wondering if maybe things were getting out of proportion, and feeling frivolous, we had a laugh about it. But that is one example among many.

Michael Atherton, an England captain in a simpler age, wondered to Flower upon the news of Trott's departure if this micro-management had inadvertently become part of the problem. It was a good question. Flower responded by listing the outings organised on behalf of England's players to help them gain a perspective on life: the battlefield at Ypres, a burns unit in Dhaka, an orphanage in Kolkata and the visit ahead of the Ashes tour to a recovery unit in Surrey for injured servicemen. All of them are designed with good intentions to remind the players that playing international sport is essentially something to be cherished.

Yet even these trips have serious intent and represent just another aspect of their lives that are organised on an England cricketer's behalf, crammed from time to time into a packed international schedule. There is not much room for self-ownership, for the refreshment found in individual liberty, for encouragement for a player to broaden his mind in whatever way a person chooses as long as it does not involve cricket.

Atherton concluded in The Times: "Every whim is catered for. The impression is of a closed, institutionalised and claustrophobic world." He might have added "obsessive".

The next time an England player falls off a pedalo in the early hours of the morning it will probably emerge that it was part of a study into whether the combination of salt water and exercise could create a faster recovery from alcoholic excess.

Perhaps for their own state of mind what all England players need is the chance to find themselves once in a while, to behave as human beings not cricketers, to spend more time in any way they want to spend it, to get to 11 o'clock at night and think: "I skipped the gym today and, do you know, I'm not guilty about it."

To learn that Alastair Cook works long hours on the farm or that Graeme Swann still occasionally sings in the band is a good thing. Coping mechanisms are being quietly replenished. On spare days in summer, though, many of us grouse that they are not doing their bit by playing more county cricket.

Trott can be assured of committed professional support. The experience provided by Marcus Trescothick's illness changed English cricket forever. "We have spent a lot of time and effort making sure we have the best possible support services in place," Morris said. "We have an outstanding medical team. They have access to a network of consultants in various medical disciplines and whether a player is physically injured or has a mental illness they will be provided with the best possible care. It is something we take very seriously in conjunction with the PCA."

Stress-related illness, depression, call it what you will - because it is a generic description for conditions which are finally being recognised, but which are far from understood - can strike anywhere. Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation suggest that 9 per cent of people in the UK reach the criteria for medical diagnosis in any one year. Crudely put, that equates to one per cricket team.

Trott should draw strength from the fact that stress-related depression has been referred to as the Carers' Illness: often suffered by those with high standards and aspirations, those who seek to fulfil their potential and when they meet obstacles do not give up but fight ever harder, ever more obsessively, often finally to their own detriment. If he proves to have played his last for England, he has given his all. There is no shame whatsoever in that.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • S on November 30, 2013, 22:14 GMT

    add on to my last post. I think it is best to send a travell ticket to J. Trot to travel back to Aus, ask him to bat at as one down batsman as he is, he will deliver better at that, rather than thinking about whether Root, Bell or KP should be at that one down. Aus team think they chased the J. Trot, but give that ticket to Trot, he will chase them all, just one good innings, Trot is been selected as top oder batsman, nobody selects if a player is incapable of playing at top 6. Mr. Andy Flower, tell Austailians J. Trot forgotten his track suit. he is coming for second test, you still have three days to ask the player to travel back and joing the team and playing for Eng.

    No need to shy for anything.....Srini

  • S on November 30, 2013, 20:07 GMT

    Lot of people talking about Mr. J Trot has stress related illness, but I think Eng cricket management poorly handled this matter, if you keep on ask players to pack up back bags with wrong reasons, then you better ask to pack the bags of whole team. A Sport is Sport, if somebody trying to expose you, you need to cover it. The best thing that should have been done by Andy Flower, was even if Trot said I am not feeling confident, They should have given full support, not to pack bags, but stay on the tour. What do you do Aus team in their den keep doing that acts to all your playing 11? ask them to pack the bags or what? poor management...sending a player back means, you showing the back of your, thats as simple as that, Eng Managemnt trying take excuse, it in iteself Managemnt in stress related illness


  • Sharyn on November 28, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    Paul Rone-Clarke, when the England team is out here, do the players' families not come out for Christmas? They used to. I am starting to come around to this. England are being micro-managed. The ridiculous dietary requirements said it. To tell catering companies what and how to prepare to the absolute letter is a little over the top and nothing else will suffice? What? Watson is another example. Finished the season here, played in India and had his first child, straight on to England for the Champion's Trophy and then Ashes, back to India for the IPL, Champion's League and ODI series and now back here for these Ashes. The Aussie team are under fairly tough restrictions, but nowhere near what it seems the England team are. Another post said they only play something like 65 days a year for tests, true, but even still all sportsmen and women need some down time.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    England tour for far too long. They also don't allow families on tour. It's no surprise that those affected most had young families (babies) 100% of them Harmison, Trerscothick, Yardy, Flintoff, Trott, Hoggard all fell ill on tour - all had young families at home - all were asked to be away form 3 months plus without seeing them. If people like Jeremy Snape can't see the pattern here he needs to take a close look at how he's analysing these things

  • Perry on November 27, 2013, 18:26 GMT

    Try spending five days dawdling on a filed doing nothing most of the time. Multiply that by five test matches and several warm up matches. Multiply that by about two or three times a year. Add the fact that none of the matches mean anything since there is no world championship in test cricket or a points system. And by the way most of this is happening when you are five thousand miles away from home and family. AND, test cricket is not really what pays your bills-its T20. Stress, what stress????

  • cool on November 27, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    Author mentions here as the WAR between two teams, for me "war" means huge huge thing.Oh come on this is a simple sport why do you want to use such words. That itself feels stressful, forget about players there!!!

  • Jacob on November 27, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    @C.Gull, Sorry mate, this article is about handling stress. J. Trott is a case study, and so is Tendulkar and Trescothick.

    Obviously, we need such comparisons to appreciate and understand the pressures of 21st century cricket.

  • Clive on November 27, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    Really good article with an angle I haven't seen elsewhere. Speaking as an introvert, I know I need proper solo downtime on a regular basis or else stress simply accumulates, whether I've been at work, amongst friends, whatever. It's hard to imagine living in such a micro-managed system as the English cricket team - it must feel like living in the international space station at times.

    PS. This article has nothing to do with Tendulkar.

  • Dummy4 on November 27, 2013, 0:57 GMT

    These stress breakdown of good players even more shows greatness of Tendulkar. there could be quite a few guys who can go past Sachin, but that needs them to endure all these for a minimum of 15 years, and we are already seeing a great guy like Trott unable to cope up with it only after 5 years of International cricket

  • sid on November 26, 2013, 23:49 GMT

    Most people play cricket cuz they are in love with this game. There has to be something really wrong when something you love is stressing you out. Unfortunately it looks like something is not right with how the english players are managed (may be I'm wrong) .4-5 players in last few years out due to stress related issues are pretty big warning signs in my opinion.

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