AOC columnist Mark Butcher says he was shocked to hear the troubling news that Jonathan Trott will play no further part in the Ashes due to a stress-related illness as the problems continue to mount up for England.
I was stunned to hear the news that Jonathan Trott is returning home from Australia. It’s staggering really, and things just seem to go from bad to worse for England. As it stands we know so little about the circumstances it’s hard to understand exactly what he has been going through; a stress-related illness can mean anything from battles with depression to struggles at home. We just don’t know. But one thing I do know is that when you’re on tour, problems are magnified.
I cannot give any comparable insight because I’ve not been through what Jonathan is going through but I did ask to leave a tour once, in South Africa in 1999/00, because I was having dreadful problems in my personal life at the time. I had a conversation with Nasser, who was captain at the time, and said, “Look, I’m no good to anyone here.” I was in a bad place – I was drinking a lot, not sleeping – and playing cricket was the last thing on my mind. That request to leave the tour was declined.
That just wouldn’t happen now. That’s not a complaint; it was just something that happened. Times have changed in that respect.
There are a lot of people who don’t suffer from mental illness who will find it hard to understand. A lot of people will say, ‘Well, people in the military are away from home for a long time and other people have a lot of pressure in their jobs too’. They find it difficult to understand how a highly paid sportsperson, doing something they love doing, would need to stop doing that because there is something wrong. I don’t claim to be an expert at all but from what I understand about mental illness and from talking to people like Marcus Trescothick, none of those things are relevant, at all. Depression is something there is no reason for. Your job, your occupation; it can make no difference in the slightest to how you are feeling at any one particular point.
None of the players in the Australian side, and I’m guessing in the England side, had any inclination that this was coming, so the comments made by David Warner about Trott looking “weak” and “scared” are what they are. I’m sure he had no idea what was going on in the background. That said, I do think Warner’s comments were disrespectful. On the field pretty much anything goes and if you get caught on camera, that’s what the code of conduct is for. You get fined and that’s the end of it. But off the field there are certain lines you don’t cross and Warner crossed that line by saying stuff directly to the press. Hopefully, after what’s happened with Trott going home, there is some contrition shown there. But I don’t expect any contrition to be shown with regard to what happens on the pitch, and nor should there be. I expect it will all be just as spicy at Adelaide.
Australia were magnificent at Brisbane. You saw the pressure that was applied to England’s batsmen, the verbals, and England came out on the very wrong side of a fiercely fought contest. Not only have Australia scored a victory in the first Test, they’ve landed an enormous blow on the England batsmen by laying down a marker for the type of hostile bowling they can expect to face for the rest of the series.
Michael Clarke was a bit like a mafia boss ordering a hit. He’s standing behind the big burly henchmen in Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris and ordering them to dish out pain and destruction, but he’s not the one who’s actually doing it himself. They’d gone a long time without a Test win and Darren Lehmann and Clarke have had a real good look and said, “We’ve lost three Ashes series on the bounce – we need to go back to being like Allan Border and Steve Waugh’s Australian sides and be as unfriendly and combative on the field as possible.”
There’s a reason for all this. When Ricky Ponting’s side were all conquering the last thing they needed was to be liked as a team. They were respected as a fantastic cricket team but people, even in Australia, thought they were arrogant and didn’t particularly portray themselves in the right way. I think at the back end of that era there was a marked shift and they tried very hard to be all of those things – a fantastic cricket team that were liked as well as respected. I remember people like Matthew Hayden being all ‘holier than thou’ on the pitch, which was a little hard to take!
That change of approach continued, even though the team weren’t as good, and Clarke and Lehmann have eventually decided that enough is enough. Now’s the time to go back to being as Australian as they can; to get in the opposition’s face, sledge a bit, and give some back. Let’s not forget that England have hardly been angels over the years – they’ve done more than their fair share of sledging.
It’s given us some brilliant cricket, helped by a fantastic pitch at The Gabba – it was an absolute belter. Carry, pace, bounce – that’s how you get good cricket. Some of the cricket at home this summer was dire because the pitches were dire and made to order. I said at the time I didn’t like or agree with it, so hurrah to these types of pitches! England’s batsmen need to come up with some answers and quick because if they fail to level the series at Adelaide they’ll be staring down the barrel.
Mark Butcher was speaking to All Out Cricket’s Jo Harman and will be contributing to alloutcricket.com throughout the Ashes.