Angus Fraser on the Ashes 2013-14: Criticism when you are not playing well can cut deep

 

The only surprise with Jonathan Trott’s decision to withdraw from England’s Ashes tour of Australia with a stress-related illness is that instances like this do not occur more often. The scrutiny top sportsmen and women are now exposed to and the expectation that is placed on their sometimes fragile bodies is immense. It should, therefore, come as no surprise when an individual is forced to remove themselves from the limelight because they are unable to cope.

Some people will feel that dealing with such issues is part of the job and that the person concerned needs to toughen up. There is often little sympathy because the athlete is perceived to be a lucky so-and-so who is being well paid to do an enviable job that comes with a wonderful lifestyle.

The facts, of course, are mostly true but there is much more to it than this simple and slightly ignorant summary. Coping with the pressures of playing top-flight sport should never be taken for granted. It is why most of the athletes who reach the top are fine mental – as well as physical – specimens. Dealing with a situation where people are constantly questioning your ability and nature is hard. Inaccurate judgements are constantly made, even by the supposedly well-informed. And being well-paid does not make the public humiliation any easier.

There are many support structures that are present in the current England set-up that I wish were around when I played. The attention to detail is remarkable and the aim is to allow each player to be the best cricketer he can be. Workloads are constantly monitored so that a player’s best days are spent representing England rather than a county. Alastair Cook’s squad also get extremely well remunerated. They probably earn more in a year than I did in a career.

Despite these benefits I am not at all envious of current players. In the Nineties the England teams I played in were under pressure to perform and we were often humiliated when we did not. During one indifferent day of cricket Sir Ian Botham suggested while commentating that the England bowling attack had shown the killer instinct of the Teletubbies. I can laugh at it now but seeing my head superimposed on Laa-Laa the next day in a national paper did not make me feel too good about myself. The ridicule could have had a bigger impact  on other players with unknown issues.

Even so the scrutiny we suffered is nowhere near as high as the current team. When we lost there were disappointment and repercussions but the game and the world allowed you downtime. As a squad we were occasionally encouraged to get away from cricket and to have some fun. This was one of the joys or perks of touring. Not everything you did in Australia or the Caribbean had to be justified. Nor was it analysed. There may not have been many series wins but I look back on my touring days with a great deal of fondness.

The stakes are now far higher and, sadly, the extra demands increase the pressures on those in the system. It is also hard to get away. At any hour of the day there will be someone watching and commenting on what you have or have not done. In the desire to grab attention much of it will be hyperbole. Nowadays, armed with a mobile phone and a Twitter account, everyone is a journalist with an opinion. Many of the views expressed will be hurtful and published by ill-informed people possessing little idea of how the game really works. Their comments will upset someone, especially family members.

In light of what has taken place David Warner will probably be vilified for the comments he made about Trott during the first Test. Warner probably should not have said Trott’s dismissal was weak and that he looked scared but top-level sport is not a place for the vulnerable. Sportsmen are trained to prey on the weaknesses of opponents and home crowds are often encouraged to make life extremely unpleasant for the visitors. We demand our sportsmen to be tough and ruthless, but polite and considerate at the same time. Sadly, it rarely works out like this.

Everyone is as bad as each other. Indeed, I do not remember many England supporters showing a great deal of sympathy to Mitchell Johnson when he was going through a difficult period a few years ago. Highlighting his shortcomings in song and humiliating him was viewed as great fun. It was irrelevant that it nearly ended Johnson’s career and resulted in him spending lots of time seeing a psychologist.

And, to judge by the fine handed out to Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, for sledging James Anderson it is not only off the field that a player now has to be careful with what he says. Obviously, there is a line that should not be crossed – racial, homophobic or personal abuse – but suggesting that a fast bowler may try to break a batsman’s arm with a bouncer is well behind it. During a Test series against the West Indies, Desmond Haynes, the former Middlesex opener, once grabbed my right arm and said it looked very breakable. On an Ashes tour a former England coach also once asked one of his fast bowlers to try to break Shane Warne’s fingers with a bouncer when he was batting. Warne was destroying England at the time.

Intimidation plays a major part in most sports, and it always will. Why do the All Blacks continue to do the Haka? Don’t tell me that football centre-backs will not continue to threaten to injure a flashy striker, or that front rows in rugby will stop reminding the opposition that they could leave the match in pain. In the same way, facing fast bowling is as much about bravery as skill.

Everyone with a true love for sport will wish Jonathan Trott well but don’t expect him to be the last casualty. The hostile, unforgiving, win-at-all-costs environment that now seems to prevail around sport will ensure this is not the case.

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness