“As a young boy, I was told that cricket is the game of life. There are times you feel hard done by after the best day of your career. But you still have to wake up next morning and go to work. That’s the way the world operates,” says Stuart MacGill, the Aussie leg-spinner who quit the sport abruptly on the 2008 tour of West Indies.
At the time, MacGill’s personality was scrutinised. An Ashes hero, MacGill was an outsider who never smiled after taking a wicket, never hung around with teammates. MacGill feels its time cricket embraces other complex personalities such as Jonathan Trott. “In the past, you didn’t talk about your problems. Now, you do. Professional athletes couldn’t let the opposition know of a chink. I can guarantee you that Trott is not seeking an excuse. He just needs to rest.”
MacGill fears hostile crowds would label Trott “a coward” for walking out on his team. “Trott is a highly disciplined individual, and that has its own downside. His hand was forced to give in.”
“Aussies were unaware of Trott’s stress-related illness. I do believe the ferocity of competition has created a very difficult environment,” added MacGill, who took 39 wickets in six Ashes Tests at 24. For fans, somewhere between the smack of leather on willow and toiling to take 20 wickets, is a lasting banter that’s fed them 100-plus years of entertainment. Sledging has sobered from: “What do you think this is, a f***ing tea party? No, you can’t have a f***ing glass of water. You can f***ing wait like all the rest of us,” when Allan Border objected to Robin Smith’s requests for water during an innings, to Shane Watson calling Ian Bell “a child” earlier this year.
Doug Walters, another Ashes hero, credits coach Darren Lehmann for “bringing back the attitude”. “I was sick of the goody-goody stuff. The Joe Root-David Warner incident would have stayed indoors in my days. Were the Aussies going soft? You bet. Darren is teaching these guys to win again. I hope and pray the ICC don’t get involved in all of this. If two players are having a problem in the middle, the umpire should step in,” he said.
Walters, however, blamed his countrymen for Trott’s departure. “I would have thought they knew about his illness. Warner shouldn’t have done what he did.”
Walters felt the main reason is lack of friendships. “We should be going back to the Old Testament — have a beer at the end of each day. Not just yawn at each other and most importantly, stop taking life so seriously. Surely, it’s not that hard. If you approach cricket like that, you will also maintain sanity in your life. Open up and just enjoy the game.”
MacGill “hates” the word sledging. “I have experienced more sledging than anyone. The more professional the game, the more strategic the comments, chit-chat is a part of the game. Even the great Sachin Tendulkar didn’t shy from saying something. Steve Waugh called it mental disintegration.
A good bowler moves on after being hit, a batsman decides he doesn’t want to get dismissed. And that is where competition begins. Standing in slips, we reminded a batsman of his past issues, and sometimes that got him to change the way he was playing. We discussed his grip, that he can’t play a cover drive, etc. and the desire to prove each other wrong...that is the essence of the game. Those words are not said out of spite.”