The second Ashes Test may have got under way in Adelaide, but the last has not quite been heard about England batsman Jonathon Trott and his stress-related illness.
Ever since he left the tour in the wake of England’s humiliating defeat in the first Test, there has been no end to speculation about the real nature of Trott’s problem — though the cricketing media has dealt with the case with a sense of compassion so far.
Yes, there are precedents of former England cricketers like Marcus Trescothick breaking down with a problem of a similar nature, or Steve Harmison admitting to suffering from depression, but it would be too simplistic to suggest cricketers from that country are more prone to such disorders than others.
Much like in any other sphere of life, stress has become the dreaded word for modern professional sportspeople — thereby making the role of psychiatric help almost a routine process.
It was out of curiosity that I decided to pick the brains of Dr Rudi Webster, the guru among sports psychiatrists, about the nature of Trott’s problem. Now a 75-year-old and based in Australia, the West Indian’s list of ‘patients’ is awe- inspiring: from Greg Chappell, Viv Richards and Brian Lara to the likes of the Laxmi Ratan Shuklas during his association with the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders last year.
Dr Webster said that while it would be presumptuous to draw a conclusion as to why Trott — generally known as one of the tough customers in this England team — cracked, he was gracious enough to come up with a few pointers. Trott’s ‘mental fragility’, according to him, could be borne out of his recent performances and performance anxiety, but that there may be more than what meets the eye.
He said that while some players (or people) with underlying psychological issues are more succeptible to stress than others, every player has a breaking point under pressure. While it’s the ability to cope with pressure that usually “separates great players from the others”, he had no dearth of examples in cricket where even some of the biggest names also proved to be humans after all.
Lara, one of his patients, succumbed to what Dr Webster calls ‘combat fatigue’, while he points out that Chappell — after his role as India coach — described the mental fragility of Sachin Tendulkar in his book when the legendary batsman was going through a rough patch in 2006. What worked in Lara’s case, according to Dr Webster, was to give up the captaincy of West Indies, stay away from the game for a while and to get some “rest and recreation” to recharge the batteries.
Hopefully, Trott is doing precisely that to take a fresh guard sooner than later. For cricket is unique for a team sport in that, as a batsman at the crease, you are all alone and it’s left to the individual to conquer his own demons. A psychiatrist can only help.