A decision by England batsman Jonathan Trott to withdraw from the remainder of the Ashes series due to a stress-related illness brought predictably insensitive reactions from some sections of the Australian media.
One depression expert, however, hopes Trott's high-profile case might help other athletes come forward without fear of ridicule. And a sports psychologist suggested why verbal taunts which often lead to anxiety and possibly suicide seem to be so pronounced in cricket.
Brisbane-based sports psychologist Dr Phil Jauncey, who has worked with many cricketers, pointed to the slow-paced nature of the sport that enables players to get up close and personal with their opponents, allowing taunting - known locally as "sledging" - to have more effect.
"In many other sports, you are too busy, maybe one-on-one in tennis, or in rugby, the game is just moving too fast," Jauncey said in an interview today with The Associated Press. "In cricket, you are standing around this guy, you can keep talking at the batsman, you have your mates around. In a sense it's bullying. And if you've got some issues, it could get to you."
Jeff Kennett, a former premier of Victoria state and now chairman of the Beyondblue group that promotes awarenss of depression and anxiety, says the cliched old 'If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen' mentality only makes it worse for athletes.
"For every Jonathan Trott, there are hundreds of sportsmen and women in the same position, with the same condition, who now may feel if they seek help they're going to be ridiculed," Kennett said.
"If Jonathan Trott had returned to the UK for a physical injury you would not have got these headlines. Because it's a mental health illness or a stress-related illness, some in the media have seen fit to actually mock him."
Certainly Sydney's Daily Telegraph was among the newspapers that did. The tabloid newspaper did, however, quote Sandy Gordon, the former psychologist of the Australian cricket team, as saying "we all need to get over this macho view that someone dealing with a psychological condition is somehow less worthy than others. I find that view quite worrying."
England coach Andy Flower suggested he might meet with his Australia counterpart, Darren Lehmann, in talks designed to place limits on sledging ahead of the second test starting December 5 in Adelaide.
The England coach and captain Alastair Cook both said comments by Australian opening batsman David Warner regarding Trott in a news conference last weekend were "disrespectful".
Flower said those comments had nothing to do with Trott's departure after just one of five test matches. After Australia's 381-run win in the first test, Warner admitted his comments "probably went a little bit too far".
Former Australia opening batsman Matthew Hayden told a breakfast television show today that Australia should rebuff any attempts by England to scale down the amount of sledging, saying "it's all part of the game".
And Jauncey admits that while Flower's suggestion of peace talks makes sense in the context of the last few days, it might work against him and England.
"The very fact that Flower is asking for it, the Australians might think they're getting under his skin, 'so we must be getting to them,'" he said. "Or it might show strength from Flower, let bygones be bygones. Perception is in the eye of the beholder."
Lehmann said he has no intention of changing its tactics for the Adelaide match.
"Jonathan Trott has gone home and we hope he gets well soon," Lehmann told an Adelaide radio station. "We do care about that but we are still going to play hard cricket."
"From my point of view, Andy looks after his side and I look after my side, that's what you do in the game of cricket," Lehmann said. "I played with Andy at South Australia, I talk to him all the time, but at the end of the day, he's in control of the England cricket team and we've got to try and get the Ashes back."
Australia and England have been contesting the Ashes since the 1880s, and tension sometimes boils over. England have won the last three series, increasing the angst among players and fans in Australia.
Fairfax Media sports columnist Greg Baum wrote today that Jonny Bairstow, who could replace Trott in England's top six, experienced depression and anxiety in his family. Bairstow's father, David, an England and Yorkshire wicketkeeper, died by apparent suicide 15 years ago at the age of 46 after suffering from depression.
Baum wrote that in the 10 years between cricket historian David Frith published "By His Own Hand," a book examining the incidence of suicide among cricketers, in 1991 and a follow-up a decade later, the number of reported cases had increased from 85 to more than 150.
The reason Frith gave was that cricket was often a one-chance sport, where if a batsman is out early in his innings - as Trott was twice in Brisbane - the fans, opposing players and media can be brutal.
"Now Trott has gone home to untangle his mind, without prejudice to his future, and with his team's blessing and - save for a Sydney newspaper's infantilism - Australia's sympathy," Baum wrote.
Jauncey says the issue transcends all sports.
"For most players in any sport, verbal taunts or sledging is like water off a duck's back," Jauncey says. "Usually players don't allow it to put them off what they are trying to do. It's only going to affect people who have something else going on in their life, something outside of the sport itself. It might be the level of sledging that pushed him over, but probably it's more the self-doubt and lack of performance.
"Every player has off-field pressures," he says. "It's not the pressure, but how you deal with it. The more we get pro-active about it, the sooner we can deal with the issues."
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