The Ashes 2013-14 November 27, 2013

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Morne on December 3, 2013, 15:39 GMT

    Michael Hussy..what a legend and just about the only true gentleman ever produced by australia on the cricket field. Respect.

  • Steve on November 30, 2013, 2:23 GMT

    The problem of packed schedules is of the player's own making. Most cricketing nations pay their players very well comared to yesteryear and therefore the lust for money should be diminished. Years ago players complained about packed schedules and yet as soon as the IPL came along there suddenly wasn't enough cricket. Personally, and if I were on the board, I would ban Test players from IPL/Big Bash and any other format of T20, give the players an option, play 50/50 and T20 or Test and 50/50 but not all three.

    Please don't complain about too much cricket when you have a choice about how much you play.

  • Bunnie on November 28, 2013, 7:20 GMT

    First world problems. That is all

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2013, 7:01 GMT

    Honest and sensitive reaction from Hussey. Mental illness is a complicated situation and no one wd wish to be in Trott's place. Everyone has a unique threshold level for stress anxiety or pressure that is a result of lot of wide ranging causes and so we cannot label Trott as 'weak' or any such unthinking tags. As doctors wd say no two patients are alike. We can only sympathise with Trott's condition and hope and wish he makes quick recovery and gets back to normal health asap.

    Meanwhile cricket needs to pay heed to what Hussey hints at - it is h just a game. So making players performa around the world most of the year is an overkill that will prove counterproductive sooner or later.

  • Antony on November 27, 2013, 21:22 GMT

    Michael Hussey is a shining example to all players - Australian or otherwise - of how to behave both on and off the field.

  • Jason on November 27, 2013, 13:21 GMT

    Well thought out comments by Mike Hussey, everyone deals with stress differently.

    Trott has always come across as a little introverted, and at times thats to his credit, but when pressure builds and you have trouble expresing how you feel it can be too much, such that hotel rooms just seem like prisons, and the slightest thing becomes an irritant.

    All credit to Trott for leaving, hopefully he can get his head together and have relaxing christmas with his wife and daughter over christmas.

    All boards need to look at the schedule, and try and rotate players more maybe givving the one series in 4 a miss so they can recharge. Yet the media and fans then jump up and down about the 'stars' missing from the games, look at what happened in the ODI series against Aus in sep with england resting most of its key test players.

  • KUMARAVEL on November 27, 2013, 13:11 GMT

    Husseys comments make a lot of sense as He is one other batsman like Trott who strives for absolute perfection in batting and it is not easy being Mr. Perfect . Any flaws appear, the wolves will be out baying for blood and then you start getting self doubts. One should understand that striving for perfection is good provided you also understand that obsessive pursuit of the same is not healthy.

  • Dinesh on November 27, 2013, 13:11 GMT

    This is very nice of Hussey. I admire how he carried himself on the field and now on the field. Such nice & balanced views. I believe stress is part of everybody's life. Sometime we find joy and forget about it, sometimes it just get simmering on & on to a limit where you say: not anymore. There may be some scientific reason why it turn towards medical thing, but almost each one of us face it one way or another. If I have a very poor day, I go home watch the face & smile on face of my kids and feel relieved. But what about a man who doesn't get to see his family day in day out. On top of that I believe cricket preparations are more like war preparation with 100s of people alongside the squad who ensure that even you sneeze in a particular manner. Hussey, you understand, its just a sport. Does Trotty understands that? I really hope he does not have a mental illness just the depression which he can get out once he pass some quality time with near & dear ones especially his kids.

  • Amit on November 27, 2013, 12:57 GMT

    God's sake... Trott made his decision and was the right one for him and he is now home. There are bigger problems and I don't even face them but I know they exist. Classic case of Maslow's heirarchy here? Cricket is not as important as his health. But then his problem is not as critical as some of the other problems people face. I find psychological problems fascinating ... but this is a forum for cricket and a time to leave him alone.

  • Subha on November 27, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    In my sight, Mike Hussey has been the most perfect gentleman cricketer, other than Rahul Dravid, since I have started watching cricket. And now cricket is no more a gentleman's game. Hustlers have sensed blood and they are now all over the place. Feel really sorry for Trott and Hussey - not that I don't like Dale Steyn.

    Good luck to Dhoni - he will keep the wolves out in his own way.

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