Hussey recalls dark side of the game
Even though Michael Hussey wrestled near enough to daily with mental roadblocks over the course of 79 Test matches, he cannot begin to imagine the inner torment that forced Jonathan Trott home from the Ashes tour.
A combination of stress-related illness, an assignment on the other side of the world and a relentless short-ball examination from Mitchell Johnson in Brisbane pushed Trott into a corner from which the only sensible course of action was to return to England. While Hussey cannot speak of Trott's condition, he knows as well as anyone the doubts and fears created by occasions when a fast bowler had his number, and by a relentless schedule.
Watching Trott's fraught innings at the Gabba from his perch in the Nine commentary box, Hussey said he could relate to the scenario where a batsman finds himself without an escape from the angle of attack that Johnson found. Hussey was memorably pinned down by Dale Steyn at Durban in 2009, a confrontation in which the batsman eventually lost his usual composure, yelling abuse at the bowler before admitting he was scared.
"It's a very uncomfortable position to be in really, when you probably know you're not batting as well as you'd like, and you know what the opposition are going to do to you and you don't really have a way out of it," Hussey told ESPNcricinfo. "You can go one of two ways, either go into survival mode, which is pretty dangerous as well and you're probably going to wear a few, or you can take it on and there's risk involved in that.
"If you can get away it puts a bit of doubt back into the bowler's mind, but Michael Clarke had really good fields set that made it difficult to get away as well. It's a very uncomfortable position to be in, especially if you're mentally not in the best shape you possibly can be, you're probably not thinking as clearly as you'd like, so it's a horrible place to be."
Equally vexing for many players is the 21st century treadmill of matches, where they are often caught between fulfilling commitments to their country, and the obvious financial lure of Twenty20 club tournaments. The result is often a career where as many as 11 months of the year are spent away from the stability of home life, with lonely hotel rooms helping to add to the sense of darkness descending.
"Most definitely the time away from home is very challenging, and you do get lonely," Hussey said. "Your teammates are there, but you still go back to your room at the end of the day's play and certainly if you're not playing well or the team's not winning you do get a bit down. I can't even begin to empathise with what Jonathan Trott is going through, but if things aren't going well you can get a bit lonely, a bit depressed, and a bit negative."
Poor results on the field can at times further compound the stresses of the moment. Hussey said the worst he ever felt in the game was in fact during a home summer - the 2010-11 Ashes series when his own strong personal contribution could not hold back the raging tide of English success. Three innings defeats left deep scars.
"We were getting absolutely belted by England," he said. "You're physically and mentally exhausted, we were in the field for 150-160 overs, you're still not at home in your own bed, and that was as close as I came to feeling depressed. You felt like you were letting down the whole country in an Ashes series. They were pretty demoralising losses, so that was probably the worst I ever felt - it was a home series but more the performance of the team was so depressing it really gets you down."
Trott's case has left many players pondering their own inner battles, and Hussey said that ultimately the game had to take a secondary place behind the health of its participants. "I certainly battled with myself mentally, but I didn't have an illness," he said. "So it's got to be 100 times worse if you've got an illness.
"That's why it's the right decision for him to get away from it all, get home, get diagnosed correctly and get the proper treatment. It is just a game of cricket, I know they're very important games of cricket and it's the Ashes and all that sort of stuff, but surely your health is a lot more important than any cricket match."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here