The Telegraph – Derek Pringle
Jonathan Trott was not one of the “tough three” England’s psychometric tests showed responded well to provocation from opponents. They were Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior.
What Trott registered in those tests is not being revealed, but his return to the UK from Australia with a stress-related illness suggests the conclusion was either wrong or some worrying warning signs were overlooked because he had coped before.
Trott has rarely walked as a batsman but he appears to have become a walking wicket where anxiety is concerned in back-to-back Ashes series, given the intensity and very personal nature of the cricket and the fact that he has suffered stress-related problems for most of his career.
England were saying on Monday that Trott was just another unfortunate statistic in a society-wide issue. But that would be to deny the evidence of the first Test at the Gabba which showed Trott in a most desperate light at the crease as he tried in vain to cope with Mitchell Johnson’s thunderbolts.
An Ashes series in Australia is as hard as it comes, away from playing the 1980s West Indies teams in the Caribbean. Trott felt that in Brisbane in all its fury, with Johnson’s brutal “bodyline” bowling on the field and David Warner’s tasteless jibes about him having “scared eyes” off it.
Others have wilted under the pressure of an Ashes tour. Marcus Trescothick, Phil Tufnell and Len Hutton have all had moments in Australia where the will to go on deserted them. Only in Trescothick’s case did it result in him going home though Tufnell was placed in psychiatric care before discharging himself and carrying on with the cricket.
It was unbeknown to Australia’s Rottweiler sledgers and those outside England’s dressing room that Trott has long suffered from stress-related illness, though he never took medication. England knew but still saw fit to pick him for what was always going to be a highly-charged first Test and a massive challenge for Trott given that Johnson had targeted him successfully in the one-day series in England a few months ago.
Many will ask why Trott has not come close to returning home from other tours where he has not had his technique and mind so systematically dismantled. The first reason is that it could be a chicken-and-egg situation in that he looked all over the place here because he was, the mental torment making him bat like he did rather than the other way around.
The second is that everybody has their tipping point and that this had simply not been reached elsewhere.
It might or might not be coincidence that there was an occasion at the Wanderers in South Africa where he looked so shot against the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel that Mickey Arthur, the opposition coach, was seen making the twirly sign with a finger pointed at his head that in most cultures signifies someone is cuckoo.
Steven Sylvester, a sports psychologist who has worked with cricketers including those at Middlesex and Worcestershire, believes Trott simply could not reconcile his failures here, something that would have been rammed home at every occasion by opponents, the Australian media and the public. Sylvester reckons that the damage to his self-esteem became so great that he simply had to flee the scene – the flight in the “fight or flight” response every human has when exposed to extreme stress.
The response of the Australian players is not yet known but Trott was happy to dish out the verbals to them last summer. Going head to head with an opponent is what all sportsmen expect from themselves but not when you are being humiliated, as Trott was here. Once his inner fragility was exposed by Johnson and confirmed publicly by Warner, the innate feeling would have been one of fraudulence, however irrational that is for a man recently averaging 50 in both Tests and one-day internationals – and that is hard to take.
One of the drivers to why more top-level sportsmen seem unable to cope with their lot is the win-at-all-costs mentality most sports now have.
Failure, which used to bring a shrug and a handshake from the amateur of old, now tips them into a dark pit of despond. It is a place where self-worth atrophies and one that management sometimes reinforces by ignoring those who have been dropped from the first team.
England are at pains to stress that Trott had a good support mechanism around him but did that mean players were walking on eggshells when he did badly? When Ian Bell made a tart comment about his batting during a practice match in Dubai 18 months ago, he allegedly grabbed his Warwickshire colleague in an aggressive way.
Trott has his faults as a person and as a batsman, but he has made a better fist than most of England’s problematic No 3 spot. Nobody, not even Warner or Johnson, would wish him the kind of retreat he has been forced to take from a high-profile series like this and which, given any other option, he, as a red-blooded sportsman, would have done anything to avoid.
For that, he deserves our sympathy as well as our good wishes for a full and speedy recovery.