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Time for Trott

A few years ago, Time To Change released a series of adverts considering the difficulties associated with returning to work after an absence due to mental illness. With the tag line “Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health”, they tackled the concerns for both the individual and their work colleagues. Anyone who has suffered from one of the many suffocating and overwhelming invisible illnesses will know how hard facing other people can be, especially when they are aware of your condition.

The thing about having a mental illness is that it’s unlikely to be something you admire about yourself. You might accept it, but it usually wouldn’t feature on your list of best attributes. Consequently other people knowing about it can aggravate it, making you painfully more aware of this unseen prison that you feel trapped in.

So all of this will be on the mind of anyone going back to work after a break to deal with their demons. Add to that the indescribable pressure of the hopes of a cricket loving army of fans and the TV cameras transmitting your image around the world, and you are in for a pretty tough ride.

With that in mind, it seems understandable that Jonathan Trott failed in three out of four of his first innings back in an England shirt. Surely more remarkable by far is that he saw success with one knock – 59 – in the first innings of the 2nd Test against the West Indies.

It’s not to say the Trott should be given a free pass to fail, or that repeated poor performances should go overlooked, but we should remember what Trott is like at his best with bat in hand, and perhaps show some leniency in the lead up to the cricketing highlight of the summer – the Ashes.

It was during the 2009 Ashes series that Trott burst onto the international scene with 119 in his Test debut in the final match at the Oval. And if we’re going to win this forthcoming Ashes series we’re going to need moments, sessions, and individuals of brilliance to get us there.

3x3x3

With twenty20 most definitely here to stay, International cricket tours now have to accommodate all three formats of the game. There is no standard pattern for how many matches of each form are included, nor which order they are played in, but international cricket boards could do worse than base future tours on the current schedule being employed between New Zealand and England.

At the recent MCC meeting in Auckland New Zealand, the co-existence of the three formats of the game was discussed, and the Committee heard from David White, the CEO of New Zealand Cricket. He advocated the 3x3x3 format currently on offer in his country.

Aside from bad weather or a draw, a best of three series ensures a result, and gives fans the opportunity to get into a mini series, without over egging the cricket pudding. To me, as in New Zealand, it makes sense to start with t20, and expand in size. Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the game, and a tour schedule should reflect this. How many people would stay at a gig to watch the support acts after the headliner has played? If this is not a view universally held, those at the helm of the game should set the example.

This was never more pertinent than during the seven match ODI series between England and Australia after the home Ashes series in 2009. England were trounced 6-1, but with the little Urn – arguably the top prize in cricket – already in their pocket, who wants to watch a painfully extended series between the two sides afterwards?

Obviously scheduled to provide some (evidently) much needed ODI practise before the teams jetted off to South Africa for the imminent Champions Trophy, the ODI’s felt like a grand anti-climax following an entertaining Ashes series. It was reminiscent of following a Rolling Stones concert with a set from a Spice Girls tribute act. A maximum three match ODI series is a thought echoed by Mark Nicholas in a recent piece on cricinfo.com, as he argues the middle format is in serious danger of being overshadowed on either side by its shorter and longer counterparts.

The Ashes is, of course, the obvious exception to the 3x3x3 principle. The pinnacle of the sport should remain sacrosanct. The Test matches are often scheduled to allow for warm up matches for the visitors, and in some cases, to prepare for a limited overs world event falling afterwards, as in 2009.  As I said, an exception to the rule.

There was outrage at the scheduling of only three Test matches in the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, when South Africa visited England in 2012. The thought of anything less than five Test matches between the top two Test teams in the world horrified many fans. But with tours scheduled well in advance, correctly predicting who would hold the top two slots that far ahead would be almost impossible. Just look at England’s record at number one before South Africa took their crown with a 2-0 win in the aforementioned series: six defeats in 11 matches, and Test series losses to Pakistan and South Africa. That sort of record wouldn’t help cricket boards schedule around rankings.

A five match Test series is a relic of the old days, harking back to the 1950s when Test cricket was the only form of the game, and only one team toured each season.  We’re no longer in the days of several weeks shipping players around the world to play, specialist players can now hop on and off a plane to drop in and play in their format, before returning home, or more likely heading off to a lucrative tournament somewhere in the world.

But of course I’m no expert on scheduling a cricket tour. I’m just a fan of a good series. So, whet the appetite with a quick blast of t20, give some food for thought with three ODI’s, before sinking your teeth into a meaty Test series. Naturally I am biased to make an exception for the Ashes, with such fervour around the series, it would be over too soon if it featured anything less than five battles. Aside from Aussie bashing, I would certainly advocate a 3x3x3 tour, with Test matches rightly remaining the headline act.

 

Mind over Matter

I’ve done things on a whim before; bought that dress that was too expensive, or had that second (OK third) slice of cake. But Leicestershire cricketer Matt Boyce means business when he acts on a whim. In the middle of the 2012 domestic cricket season, Matt decided, on a ‘whim’, to walk the length of Britain to raise money for Mind, a mental illness charity. On the 3 December he will complete his walk from John O’Groats to Lands End. Of course, I can’t predict the future, but having walked alongside Matt for a few hours, I can be certain that neither hell nor high water will stop him completing his journey.  In fact, I can be certain on the second point: I joined Matt on the wettest day of his epic walk, and, as it turned out, the wettest day of the year in Somerset. So bad was the weather, that we were unable to conduct the interview that I had planned, eventually having to take shelter in a rural pub to chat and drip dry.

GW: So why Mind?

MB: I’ve never suffered from mental illness myself, but at the time I was thinking of doing this Gary Speed’s suicide was in the media, there was a television programme by Andrew Flintoff, and something by Michael Vaughan on BBC 5live, so it was quite a prominent issue.

You don’t think about it yourself because you don’t suffer. I’ve become more and more aware of guys who are suffering around me who probably wouldn’t come forward because of what their friends, family and colleagues might think. So I was trying to make a statement that there is some support out there. I can’t necessarily understand depression, but I can accept it, and accept that it’s not a weakness.

Did you decide you wanted to do something for Mind and then decide on the walk, or was it the other way around?

It kind of all happened at the same time. I wanted to do something this winter for charity, at the same time I knew I wanted to do something around depression. A teammate who has joined me on this walk has struggled with depression, but it’s only been in the last couple years that he’s realised what it was. I feel really guilty because I’d call him a lazy toad because he didn’t want to leave the house! I couldn’t understand it.

As cricketers by nature we are quite selfish blokes. I knew there must be a few guys around me who are struggling with depression, but because you’re so locked up in your own world you don’t notice.

I had a friend at University. In the first year he was the life and soul of the party, and I lived with him for the next two years. He used to be a really big bloke, but during our time at University he shrank down to about eight stone. He hardly ate anything. We knew there was a bit of a problem and we tried to confront him about it occasionally, but we didn’t make a big enough issue out of it. We were so wrapped up in our own bubbles.

But it’s not just non-sufferers who can struggle to understand mental illness is it? It can also be hard for sufferers to diagnose their own problems.

That’s definitely the case. Guys who are really struggling might just feel really ill within themselves – tired or run down – and they probably don’t recognise the symptoms. I’ve heard lots of cases where people have gone to their doctor, and they put two and two together, and realise they’re suffering. It is an illness. I think people and GPs are becoming much more aware of mental illness, which helps with diagnosis. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

That’s where MIND come in, raising awareness about mental illness in society, and providing a place to go to, and people to talk to. As well as the main Mind charity, they have over 160 local branches that deal with people one on one. They’re trying to end the stigma that surrounds mental health and how it affects different people. They are a really good centre for people who’ve got issues, for someone to go and talk to.

Looking at people who’ve suffered, and looking at tweets from Mind charity, there is still a stigma that revolves around depression, but I think it’s becoming less and less prominent in society.  It helps when guys like Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard, and Steve Harmison come out and say they’ve suffered, and it’s not a weakness. It helps others to try and find help. And that’s what Mind do very well.

Is there still a lot of work to be done within County cricket in terms of supporting players with mental illness?

Cricket clubs and counties can be quite unforgiving environments in terms of lads’ banter. It’s all good fun, and when you’re around your mates like that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on someone who’s struggling a bit. You might just think he’s in a bad mood. I don’t think the environment that’s created is a good one for guys who want to come out and say they’re having problems. But having said that, there is a serious support network in place, and when someone does come out and say they’re suffering, it’s accepted rather than looked down on.

I’ve never witnessed any prejudice towards a cricketer who’s admitted suffering from depression. I’d relate that to when Steve Davies came out as being gay and everyone just accepted it. For him, that would have been a massive thing. You have banter about it in the changing room, but when you play against him you just treat him as you did before. It’s accepted straight away.

What is being done within the game to help?

The PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association) are doing good work. Through the winter they’re constantly in contact with the Welfare Officers and Personal Development guys (at counties) and they’ve got a really good support network there. It’s about changing people’s awareness of the situation.

The online videos are very good. At the start of each year the PCA go and meet the counties and they put up tutorials which we have to do, otherwise we cannot be registered to play, so it’s not just a case of do it if you want to or need to.

Back to the walk, and Matt gleefully informs me that I am the only person to accompany him and not offer to carry his hefty rucksack. Oh dear! To ease his rucksack woes, Matt gets a weekly visit from either of his parents or his girlfriend Rose who bring him clean clothes and the next set of maps for his journey. Speaking of maps, I was alarmed to learn that Matt had never read a map before he started this walk. As we left the main roads of Radstock behind and headed into the depths of the Somerset countryside, Matt looked bewilderingly around the sodden village we were in, before glancing hopefully at me for assistance.  Happily (and unsurprisingly some would say) it’s at this point that I found us the pub to take shelter in.

GW: So who else has joined you on the walk so far?

MB: Loads of people have joined me. My dad was with me in a campervan for the first two weeks up in Scotland, which was nice. He’s been really good at helping find my accommodation etc.  Some Leicestershire teammates have come along; Paul Nixon, Alex Wyatt, James Sykes, Josh Cobb, Nathan Buck, Robbie Williams, and Ben Smith the batting coach. My girlfriend has walked with me a few times, lots of friends, and both of my parents. My Aunt and her scout troop joined me as well. They’re raising some money for me, which is great. That day there were about 15 of us including my friends from London.

Did you talk to anyone else who’s done the walk?

No. Ian Botham has done it but he did it on the road. Not that it makes it any less hard. (But I am much tougher than him)!”

66 days is a very long time to be away. How long were you planning for this adventure?

I got a couple of books off the Internet from someone who’d done it before, and just followed his route – mainly off road. As I said it was a little bit on a whim! I spoke to my Dad about it, and when I’d read the books I gave them to him. I set up a Virgin Giving page, and my brother-in-law set up the website. I only ordered the maps two weeks before the start, so there wasn’t much planning before I went! I took the first two weeks (of the walk) to plan and prepare for the rest of it.

We knew where I was going to be stopping every night to book accommodation, and I look at the map every night for the next day. I haven’t even looked at the map for tomorrow; I’ll do that when I reach my destination tonight. I guess the planning and preparation is an ongoing thing for me!

Although Matt would be the first to say that he was totally unprepared for the walk, I got the impression that he’s taking each challenge in his stride (no pun intended). Aside from the worst flooding for five years, and a bout of sickness, he’s also had to content with unexpected animal attacks!

Tell me about the horses?!

When my Aunt and her scouts were with me we were attacked by horses! That was interesting. It could have been carnage, air ambulance and all sorts! We didn’t really appreciate it at the time. These horses decided to tag along with us, but on a narrow path they started running past me. I was pulling my cousin out of the way and shouting, “watch out”. They were properly going for it. One knocked a scout down a hill, and knocked my Aunt over, then a second one ran over her. Then everyone scarpered out of the way and the horses ran up the hill. She got back up, put her hat back on and carried on, which I thought was pretty inspiring.

How much are you hoping to raise?

I would like to raise at least £6,000, and I’m about half way there. I think that a lot will come in at the end and afterwards.

Coming to the end of your second month of walking you must have experienced some amazing highs and lows? Can you tell us about some of them?

When I got off road in Scotland on to the West highland Way and the Great Glen Way, I saw the most incredible sights. The weather was good at that point, so it was really nice walking there. Coming down the Pennine Way was nice as well. I saw some amazing things. You do appreciate how nice a country it is. It’s something that I would have never thought about, something that I’ve taken for granted before I started this walk. The Pennine Way was tough, that was probably the hardest part of the walk just because it was so wet under foot. I had to be concentrating all the time.

They were tough stages: I’d be climbing a lot. And any day it rains, they’re the worst. Cricketers don’t like rain, unless we’re losing! We don’t have to be out in the rain so I’m not used to it! I wouldn’t say I’ve had too many, but the lowest point I’ve had was when I was ill. But, looking back I can turn that round into a positive thing for me because I got through that time when I was sick and exhausted, and I kept walking. If I’d had to stop then it would have been bad.

So what has surprised you (other than the horses)?!

I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed different parts of the walk, especially after the first couple of weeks when I was walking on the road. But I’ve actually shocked myself by how I’ve managed to stick with it. I think planning the route the night before helps, and telling myself that it’s going to be 4 o’clock at some point! When it’s 4 o’clock I’m going to be in a warm B&B or pub.

But I knew I’d always get through the walking. I knew I’d be letting too many people down, letting myself down, to not complete the walking. But I’ve been surprised by how I’m really in my comfort zone now. I think when I stop walking, I’ll wake up the next day and want to go for a walk. I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and much of the walking, but honestly, when it rains that’s the worst.

How will you celebrate accomplishing such a massive achievement?

It will just be my mum and dad there, and my girlfriend Rose, so it’s not going to be much of a celebration! Land’s End is quite far away from Leicester, so not many people can come down. But when I get home I’m going to put my feet up for a couple of weeks and just chill out.

Should you be in training right now?

Yes the guys went back two or three weeks ago. But this is training I guess! I forfeited my month and a half off to start this so I think it would be a bit out of order if they didn’t let me finish it! I’ll probably go dip my toes into training before Christmas, but I’ll start proper training in the New Year.”

Has this motivated you to do more fundraising?

I’ll have to tell you after I finish this one. I’ve got to finish this first! But it has made me think about what I want to do in the future regarding fundraising and I’ve already thought of a couple of things I could do. I just felt it was important to raise the issue of depression in sport, of depression in general, and I would like to continue doing that kind of work, whether that’s fundraising, or speaking to people, or anything else.

Might you consider it as a job after cricket?

I probably wouldn’t consider it as a job necessarily. I’d like to do it in and around whatever I choose to do.

<em>As we left the pub and said goodbye after our interview, I helped Matt on his way, confidently pointing him off to the right. He only made it a mile down the road before he realised I was wrong. Oops!</em>

<em>With one in four people suffering from some form of mental illness in any given year, chances are you, or someone you know, is affected. Even if you don’t, Matt Boyce is walking six hours a day for 66 days, facing horrendous weather, wild horses, and worst of all, cricket journalists. Surely that deserves a donation?</em>

http://www.mattboycecharitywalk.co.uk

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=MatthewBoyce1

 

All Hales, no Gayles

On a day when the English weather held off long enough to allow a full game to finish of this forgettable West Indies tour, there were no Gayles but plenty of Hales.

England opener Alex Hales made the highest ever score by an Englishman in an international t20 to guide his side to victory, chasing 173 to win at Trent Bridge.

His superb innings was cut painfully short on 99, enough for a team victory, but not enough for Hales, who was obviously devastated to fall one short of a century when bowled by Rampaul.

His second wicket partnership with Ravi Bopara of 159 was also the highest partnership in a t20 for England, but neither of the batsmen could quite see it through to the tense finish. England needed just four from six balls when Hales was bowled, and Bopara (59) fell three balls later. It was left to Morgan (2*) and Buttler (0*) to see England home with two balls to spare.

Earlier in the day, West Indies captain Darren Sammy had won the toss and elected to bat. After his nifty fifty in the ODI at the Oval last week, the crowds were no doubt relishing their final chance to see Chris Gayle with bat in hand, in the format created for his flamboyant style of cricket. But it was not to be; the former West Indies captain out for 2, caught by Bairstow at fine leg off Finn.

The West Indies quickly found themselves 30 for 3, but were revived by a smashing 70 from Smith, who looked to have ensured a defendable total of 172 off their 20 overs. 107 of their runs came off the last eight overs, with Dwayne Bravo (54*) and Kieron Pollard (23*) demonstrating the strength of the West Indies middle order in this format.

But England, and in particular Hales and Bopara, were just too good for them. The West Indies were sloppy in the field at times, perhaps with one foot, and their brains, already on the plane that takes them to Florida tomorrow for a two match t20 series against New Zealand.

Their tour of England has been a cold and wet affair, and void of victory in any format against the host country. This t20 has perhaps been the best match of the tour, certainly the closest. Both teams can take heart from great performances with the bat in the countdown to the World t20 which starts September in Sri Lanka.

 

Is there a time and place for twitter?

The premature death of anyone taken before their time is often shocking and always devastating to those left behind. It prompts sympathy and sadness from people that had never met the deceased, and an overwhelming reminder to appreciate your loved ones.

It also creates a whole other dimension to the grieving process. I can personally vouch for the power of the sucker punch that the loss of possibility delivers. The ‘what could’ve been?’ question will torture the mourner, particularly if that question has a focus, for example, with the loss of a partner, ‘what would our future together have been like?’

In the case of promising Surrey cricketer Tom Maynard, who died early on Monday morning after being hit by a London Underground train near Wimbledon, that question is, ‘how far could he have gone in his career?’ Pegged to follow in the footsteps of his father Matthew Maynard into an England shirt,
it’s a question likely to be asked whenever his tragic death is discussed in the future. But it’s a pointless question with only fantasy providing any answer, and just another form of self-torture for those who are mourning his loss.

Twitter exploded with messages of shock and sympathy as the news spread. But as I read the sad words of the who’s who of the cricketing world I felt slightly uncomfortable. I can understand people wanting to express their feelings at what had occurred, grief is a bewildering and comprehensive emotion, and to find common sentiment is reassuring. But something about everyone pouring their heart out on a social networking site seemed a little disingenuous. I’m sure the words were not cheap to those who wrote them, but the vehicle used for their delivery felt somehow inappropriate.

I do not mean to sound critical of those in mourning; everyone reacts in their own way to the bewildering and distressing feeling. I can understand the need to talk about it, to know that you are not alone in the sadness that you are experiencing. But I was very surprised to read in the paper this morning that Maynard’s girlfriend had tweeted about her loss last night. Does tweeting your sadness to the world provide some comfort? I hope for Carly Baker it did. All I can say is that it didn’t for me when I lost someone that I loved; in fact, I avoided social media for many months. It felt like such a trivial distraction that to partake in it would shrink the enormity of what had happened. Accepting the normality of using twitter and Facebook seemed, in turn, to indicate accepting the loss, perhaps the hardest part of moving on.

But grief is such a personal and selfish beast that who am I to comment on anyone else’s methods of dealing with it? I send my best wishes to all of Tom Maynard’s friends and families in the struggle that is to come.

No win no KP

The phrase ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face’ has been used in abundance in the last week in relation to the story that Kevin Pietersen has retired from international limited overs cricket. But there’s a reason for that: it fits. And not just for south-African born KP, who has attracted more than his fair share of controversy throughout his career, but also for the England and Wales Cricket Board who have struggled to deal with the turbulent player.

Pietersen took the decision to quit ODI cricket, but was forced to say goodbye to international t20’s as well by the ECB as part of their initiative to build a limited overs squad for both formats. That’s fair enough, they have their plans in place I’m sure, but with the World t20 just four months away, surely a compromise could have been reached? Pietersen was a key part of England’s triumph in the tournament in the Caribbean two years ago – our country’s first limited overs ICC trophy – earning himself the Man of the Series accolade.

KP has been criticised for quitting limited overs cricket for his country in favour of more lucrative prospects such as the IPL, and the Big Bash in Australia. Clearly he wants to make as much dollar as he can whilst he has the ability to play as he does. But he is not the first cricketer to do so, nor the last. And the ECB are hardly in a position to judge. Pietersen’s decision to no longer play ODI’s for England was, I’m sure, influenced to some extent by the prospect of a somewhat pointless five match series against Australia this summer, a series that is purely a moneymaking event for the ECB.

It is likely that Pietersen made the decision to quit one day cricket, was told by the ECB that he couldn’t do so without ruling himself out of t20, and, like a petulant toddler, his response was to quit both instantly rather than wait a few months to take part in the tournament. There is no going back from such an announcement (this is England, not Pakistan) so it is not so much calling the bluff of the ECB, but playing the only power card he had.

But if Kevin Pietersen is the nose being cut off, it only serves to spite everyone involved in England cricket. It will not sit well with KP to see England fail or succeed without him in Sri Lanka in the World t20. The ECB, naturally keen to field the best side possible, will be missing arguably it’s strongest option, and fans of game will certainly miss the sight of KP smashing world class bowlers over the ropes. In fact, said bowlers are the only ones likely to breath a sigh of relief at the stubbornness of both Pietersen and the cricket board that forced him into his untimely decision.

Day 3 in Galle: Trott KP partnership keeps England’s hopes up

England are keeping a thin grasp on the first Test in Galle, thanks to a partnership between Pietersen and Trott that took them to close of play on 111-2.

Earlier in the day, it took England until half an hour before tea to dismiss the Sri Lankan tail. Three wickets went to the spinners in the morning session, Swann achieving his 12th Test five-wicket haul, finishing with figures of 6-82. Monty Panesar took his first and last wickets of the match before and after lunch, leaving two men standing at the crease.

Stuart Broad thought he’d finished the job when Prasanna Jayawardene went for a pull and top edged a catch back to the bowler, but England celebrations were cut short when the umpire Rod Tucker called for a replay, which showed Broad’s front foot well over the line. The subsequent appeal for a run out – Broad had removed the bails after the catch with Jayawardene out of his crease – was denied, the ball deemed already dead.

The score at that point was 168-9, a Sri Lankan lead of 293. The batsmen did not waste the lifeline gifted to them, and Jayawardene brought up the 300 lead in the next over, lofting Panesar over mid-off for four followed by a six back over the bowlers head.

They frustrated England with the addition of 47 runs before Anderson ran out Jayawardene, charging back for a risky second, to finish on 214, a daunting 340 fourth innings total to win. It is a feat that England have never previously achieved. The highest winning fourth innings total against Sri Lanka by any team was achieved by India, 264-3.

The England openers saw out the seven overs to tea, but Cook fell soon after the break, deemed out after a Sri Lankan review for a catch behind. Closer inspection of replays showed slight deviation of the ball from Herath as it whizzed past Cook’s bat, but whether or not there was conclusive evidence to overturn the on field umpire remains debatable.

It once again raises the contentious issue of the UDRS. If used, it should be universal, with all the available technology. If a host nation cannot afford hotspot, the ICC should provide it.

After another disappointing innings for Andrew Strauss (27), whose role as captain appears to be all that is keeping him in the team, Trott and Pietersen came together to prove that England are capable of competent batting in the sub-continent. A scare for Pietersen on 12 – an inside edge put down by leg slip off Randiv – was the only hiccup before close of play.

England still need another 229 to win. Time is not an issue, but England will need this partnership to continue well into day four.