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Soup of This Day #364: Breakin’ Out And Headin’ Home

March 19, 2014

Crazy paving
Crazy paving is not a suitable surface for cricket – It’s myriad cracks would bedevil the most assured of players, rendering it a true nutcase wicket – Photo: Hustvedt, 2009. Hustvedt is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Recently, South African cricket captain Graeme Smith retired. Through his career he had thrived by force of will, becoming a bulwark at the top of the South African order, breaking opening bowlers and scoring runs with a dogged efficiency. He was rarely smooth and cultured in his mechanics, he was the kind of player you admired for his strength and capacity to endure.

Against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 2009, a Mitchell Johnson delivery skidded off of a cracked pitch and broke his left hand. In addition, Smith had already been receiving treatment for what was later found to be a broken right elbow. This is generally an incapacitating array of injuries – You need both hands to be able to firmly grip the bat handle. He could have declined to take guard – True, his team was 9 down late on Day 5, but South Africa had already forged an unassailable 2-0 lead in the 3-match series.

Such vagaries were not for the bluff Smith though and so the South African captain somehow pulled on his batting gloves and left the dressing room. To a standing ovation from a partisan Australian crowd, he strode down the steps to the playing arena and then out to the wicket to face up to the very bowling attack that had broken his hand in the 1st place. He did this all in the name of saving a dead-rubber Test.

Which ultimately he couldn’t do. After a number of excruciating defensive strokes and something like 17 deliveries, Graeme Smith could do nothing about a bullet of a delivery from Mitchell Johnson that cannoned into his stumps. There were only 10 balls to play by then and despite finishing on the losing side there were not many who didn’t think that Smith had deserved a victory.

You might reckon that was toughness personified on a cricket pitch but I’ve read of better. Sarah Elliot opened the batting for the Australian Women’s cricket team in the 2013 Ashes in England. It was her debut Test, which is a pretty tough situation to confront by itself, but raising the degree of difficulty, Elliot was up half the night before, breastfeeding her 9-month old son.

I’ve never done the breastfeeding thing but just being a dad and getting up through the night for accidents, fevers and nightmares is tiring. Having a kid suck on your nipples as many as 4 times a night, pretty much most nights, is an exponential upgrade in that. Sarah Elliot must have been just a bit weary at the crease the next day.

Where she made an unbeaten 95 by stumps.

That night she got her husband to bottle feed young Sam, so that she could get some sleep. This helped her to front up the next morning when she notched up her century. From there the match unfortunately petered out to a draw but there were clear winners for mine: Sarah and Sam Elliot.

There are no clear winners in my 3rd example. Jonathan Trott left his England team during an Ashes series in Australia with what was described as a stress-related disorder. Which most – Me included – figured meant depression.

4 months later and this is not so says Trott and he wants to set the record straight for fear of ordinary folk misunderstanding:

‘You know, they think ‘There goes that nutcase’ or whatever and you’re not quite sure what people’s perceptions are because anybody would want to go on an Ashes tour and play in an Ashes and he’s just walked away from that and it was tough. People come up to you and say, ‘It’s good to see you’re out and about’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not crazy I was just burnt out’.’

Well alright then.

I’ve thought about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that for me crazy is an ok word. Watch TV late at night and you’ll soon see crazy deals with crazy pricing. Some people are crazy in love and you can even lay crazy paving. There is a vibe around crazy which is good. Crazy good.

So I’m ok with wondering if I’m crazy when the black dog is a’visiting. I certainly feel crazy, all mixed up like that paving, complete with cracks and hastily patched up mortar.

Being labelled a nutcase? I’m not so crazy about that.

Nutcase deals with nutcase pricing make me think of somebody ripping off a drug dealer. Nutcases in love read like stalkers and as for nutcase paving – This would surely be the kind of thing that Indiana Jones faces after he’s nicked a rare fertility idol.

That doesn’t end well for anybody who is not Indiana Jones.

Nutcase stuff results in hurt.

That’s not me. Most of us depressed folk are regular people – We just spend a little more time inside our own heads, feeling stuff a little more acutely than non-sufferers. The vast majority of us are not about hurting people. That sounds more like something that criminals would do. If we’re calling people with depression nutcases, but not, say, armed robbers, then I think society (Including Trott) has got this wrong.

That though is a part of the stigma problem when it comes to mental health issues – We attach overly-simplified labels. In this case you could forgive Jonathan Trott for doing that – Under pressure he’s tried to define himself and in doing so has clumsily labelled others too. He’s not alone in doing that – I’ve spoken to good folks who have unambiguously asserted that all depressed people are dangerously unstable. That’s wrong but understandable – When you assume, you make an ass out of you and a nutcase out of me. Apparently.

The commentators passing judgement on Trott at a distance fall into that latter category, even if they don’t call him a nutcase. They’re still applying tags that are just as stigmatising and they’re clumsily doing that to others too.

I’m looking at you Michael Vaughan.

Vaughan is a former England captain and current commentator on cricket. He has written a harsh condemnation of Trott, alleging that the England bat has done the equivalent of claiming a catch that he in fact grassed, suggesting that he does:

‘… feel conned…’

Again with the criminal implications.

Jonathan Trott has got burnt out to the point where he can no longer face being around the game and so has walked away from the Ashes, the very pinnacle of an England or Australia player’s cricketing ambitions. That’s the worst con job I’ve ever seen – It’s like scamming $10,000 from an old person by giving them $1,000,000.

Call my Nanna please Jonathan Trott, she’s waiting…

Personally, I spend half of my time unhelpfully wondering if I’m fooling myself when I think my mental health is waning. Is it real? Am I capable of telling what is real? Maybe not. I do know this though – I get no advantage out of it. None. And that’s before I know for sure if I do actually have a mental health issue. Once it is confirmed then it’s sure as @#$% no crazy deal – You’d have to be a nutcase to assume otherwise.

Jonathan might have fooled himself but you haven’t been conned Michael.

But this is all inside somebody’s head so that can be a hard concept to grasp. Imagine then that a woman you know finds a hard lump in a breast. Anybody begrudge her time off to deal with that – To get into a safe head space whereby she can face life? And if the lump turns out to be something benign? Has she conned us?

Nope.

So why should it be any different when a cricket player is ‘burnt out.’

There is a fine line between burnout, what we might otherwise nicely call fatigue, and depression. I’m burnt out – Maybe it’s the black dog that has done that – Christ alone knows the bastard can harass me into exhaustion when it gets the scent of my fear. Maybe instead though it’s the opening delivery for that black dog, the thing that batters down my forward defence and allows subsequent balls to dart through. Either way, I’ve yet to find a relatively simple technical flaw that I can fix to make it go away – I wish that it were that easy, but sadly, while I can better handle pace bowling via muscle memory and bravado – Net sessions and a shot of tequila – I’ve not been able to handle the black dog the same way.

Tequila hasn’t worked in the past for me, at least not in the long-term.

Jonathan Trott was burnt out. Maybe that’s classified as mentally ill, maybe it isn’t. The implications of mental illness can be as varied and as devastating as for cancer. Why begrudge him the time to get into a safe head space whereby he can face life?

Cricket is just a sport. It is the most wonderful of sports, I love it, so do many others and because of that it’s ok for us to take it seriously – Graeme Smith did that and so did Sarah Elliot. Elliot though demonstrated that she has another love as well and she took that pretty seriously too. Nobody could have criticised her if she’d not shown up for that 2013 Test – We should rightly dedicate a statue to her regardless of her subsequent century. Let’s put a player’s mental health up on the same pedestal as well and back off the criticism of Jonathan Trott.

Breakin’ Out And Headin’ Home

4 Comments
  1. I believe everyone is crazy and after that there are degrees of crazy. This serves two purposes. One, it establishes everyone has their “mental baggage.” Two, it allows us to then focus on visual clues as to how “mental” each of us is. We’re all nutty in our own way. I take comfort in that philosophy.

    • That’s a pretty good way of looking at it Bruce. Owning the crazy is a strangely liberating concept – Not that it’s helped my March Madness bracket.

      • I must confess to being 14-2 after day one…which for the moment finds me in sole possession of first place in a couple of different arenas. Shame I didn’t take the time to post my picks on my own site but then again…I am well aware coming “back to Earth” is just around the corner.

      • Ok, 14 and 2 is pretty impressive.

        I went 9 and 7. No real blow-outs but I went against a couple of middle-seeds, none of whom were Ohio State. I may also have briefly confused Arizona with Arizona State as I filled out my bracket. Because the Wildcats and the Sun Devils are interchangeable. Not.

        At least the basketball is good.

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