England batsman Jonathan Trott must overcome his doubts -- and those of teammates and supporters -- to return from the stress-related illness that knocked him out of the Ashes cricket series, a London-based psychiatrist involved in elite sports said.
“What’s difficult in situations like this, where it’s so publically known, is that there will always be questions in people’s minds,” Philip Hopley, who works with sporting bodies including the Professional Cricketers Association and the Rugby Players Association, said in a Nov. 26 telephone interview.
Trott decided to quit England’s Ashes tour of Australia on Nov. 23, midway through the first Test of the five-match series, after scoring only 10 and nine in his two innings. He flew home once England went on to lose the match in Brisbane by 381 runs, and has not spoken publically regarding his illness or about his future as an international cricketer.
“I expect he will have a review by an experienced sports-aware clinical psychologist or psychiatrist,” Hopley said. “They’ll look at the whole context. They’ll look at how he’s coping. They’ll address what the appropriate treatment package for him will be. Certainly he’ll be away from active performing for at least a couple of months.”
South Africa-born Trott, 32, has been one of England’s highest-scoring batsmen since his Test debut in 2009. He has averaged 46.5 runs in 49 Test matches and was named cricketer of the year in 2011 by the International Cricket Council, the game’s global governing body. His average fell to 30 during England’s 3-0 series win against Australia earlier this year, before his game unraveled in Brisbane two weeks ago.
The second Ashes Test starts today in Adelaide with England looking to level the series.
The England selectors chose him for the Ashes tour even though they knew about his stress-related condition. Hopley, who’s been involved in sports psychiatry for 10 years and works with individual soccer and rugby clubs, says Trott’s situation would have been under regular review and coaching staff may have decided that giving him the chance to perform was the best way to deal with it.
“With a sport like cricket quite often being successful on the field can be part of a successful treatment plan,” Hopley said. “There’s inevitably got to be some degree of risk taking.”
The gamble backfired when Trott’s mental battle manifested itself in an apparent inability to handle the 95-miles-per-hour-plus bowling of Australia’s Mitchell Johnson. Both his dismissals came from Johnson deliveries, prompting former England captain Michael Vaughan, writing in The Telegraph, to describe the batting display as among the worst he’d seen by an England No. 3.
The length of overseas cricket tours, the sport’s focus on individual performances and statistics, combined with the “hostile environment” of sledging -- verbal taunting between opponents -- all play a part in compounding risks for players struggling with psychological issues, Hopley said.
“In cricket we quite often see an association between people being away from home, away from their support structures, and then finding the pressure harder to deal with,” he added. England arrived in Australia on Oct. 25 and the Ashes series is not scheduled to finish until Jan. 7.
The withdrawal of Trott took the cricketing world by surprise. Teammate Stuart Broad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that even he and others in the dressing room were largely unaware of his condition.
Hopley says this isn’t surprising.
“It’s more often at home, removed from the pressure environment, that people are more likely to let their guard down and be themselves,” he said. “It’s in the home environment that symptoms like disturbed sleep, being anxious and being irritable may become more manifest.”
Trott is the second high-profile England cricketer in recent years to quit an Ashes tour with a stress-related condition. Opening batsman Marcus Trescothick left Australia in 2006 before the first Test had even begun. He later revealed he was suffering from depression, and never played for England again. In 2011 Michael Yardy flew home from England’s 50-over format World Cup campaign in India, also with depression.
According to Hopley, who worked with Olympic athletes during the London 2012 games, there is no reason Trott can’t return to international cricket, but to do so he will have to overcome his own doubts as well as those of the rest of the cricketing world.
“The professional input involves patients addressing aspects of their thinking, perception and behavior in order to improve their wellbeing and build their psychological resilience,” Hopley said.