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"It matters a great deal who is going to win, but not at all who won"

Willie John McBride, Irish Rugby player

Unguarded

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Jonathan Trott, London, Sphere, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7515-6514

This is without question one of the books of the year. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand professional sport. It describes the process by which Jonathan Trott goes from having “it’s the most fun I’ve ever had” batting in his first test to being “suddenly gripped by those familiar feelings of intense anxiety and impending doom” [before playing for the old boys against his former school]. The book is told not just in Trott’s words but with about 45 quotations – often 1-2 pages long – from Trott’s wife, Andy Flower and team-mates.

He sums up his life “Scoring runs had always made everything all right”. And it was a motiv which worked throughout his life from childhood to test cricket: “If I scored runs as a kid, everyone in our family and household seemed happier. If I scored runs as a teenager, I’d be selected for the best teams and the best tours. If I scored runs as a professional, my teams would win and everyone would be happy”. Trott is far from alone in using sporting success to cover deeper cracks in other aspects of life.

He presents himself as losing his temper as an 8 year old when a hapless net bowler was spoiling his chance of making the school under 10s. As a 16 year he dismissed the opinions of a psychologist: “How could he understand? Cricket had already become the way in which I defined myself. It was my identity and my purpose”. He adds: “my parents were wonderful. Hugely encouraging, utterly supportive and proud…but between us, we created something of a monster”.

The following sentence communicates brilliantly the nature of professional sport, the side of it which is unseen by those who have never lived in that world: “Do you know how difficult it is to reach the top in international sport?.. You have to want it so badly, to work for it so hard, that you made many sacrifices in other areas of your life… You have to be a bit of a mess to want it as badly as you need to if you’re going to make it”.

Trott recalls an incident when his 3 year-old daughter was really excited when he walked through the door of their home. Then she asked if would be able to stay the night – so used had she become to his absences.

While not really able to understand what had taken him to the brink of breakdown, from being one of the best and most effective batsmen in the world to being a jabbering wreck, his descriptions are poignant. Of the 2013 Brisbane test he writes: “I felt I was being led to face the firing squad by the time we reached Brisbane. I was a condemned man. Helpless, blindfolded and handcuffed. Mitchell Johnson was to be my executioner. Certainly, that’s how it felt as I approached the second innings of that first Ashes test. There was no hiding the problem anymore. I hadn’t slept, I hadn’t eaten and I hadn’t been able to stop the throbbing in my head”. He quotes Ricky Ponting talking about the little voice that sits on a sportsperson’s shoulder as they compete telling them that they are no good, that they can’t win, so they should give up.

Alongside the insights into his own struggles Trott has much to say about the culture of the England team. He describes an incident where he was a little slow in the field and immediately saw team-mates mimicking him in an exaggerated, mocking fashion. He refers to tension between batters and bowlers in the England team. He recalls batting too slowly in a T20 game and being made me apologise to the team by Andy Flower. His description of the team culture seems to back-up much of what Pietersen had said.

One of the books of the year.



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