Shane Watson is the new voice and face of the Australian Cricketers Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Shane Watson is the new voice and face of the Australian Cricketers Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson

Watson’s crusade to protect Australia’s players

Shane Watson has made the mental health of Australia's cricketers his No.1 priority as he takes over as the new players' boss.

In the space of a week, Australia has had Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson stand down from national teams due to struggles with their mental health, and Watson says it is the game's responsibility to try and limit their burden.

Watson was rubber-stamped as the new President - face and voice - of the Australian Cricketers Association and declared cricket would never again tear itself apart like it did during the last pay war.

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Shane Watson is the new voice and face of the Australian Cricketers Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Shane Watson is the new voice and face of the Australian Cricketers Association. Picture: Dylan Robinson

This collaborative approach has been illustrated by Cricket Australia and the ACA combining forces on mental health research, with a current survey - almost completed - aiming to increase the knowledge bank of the playing group and their wellbeing.

Data from third party mental health consultants Orygen has found that about a quarter of the elite cricketing population is impacted by mental health difficulties, putting the sport on par with the wider population.

Watson - a friend and teammate of the likes of Maxwell, Maddinson, Moises Henriques and Sean Abbott, cricketers who have in recent years taken time out for mental health - has lived the life of the cricketer in the fishbowl: the scrutiny, the pressure, the months on the road away from family, the mental torture of form and selection.

The 38-year-old says mental health is no longer a taboo subject and says there is plenty cricket can do to best manage and look after the headspace of players.

Maddinson withdrew from a Test audition. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty
Maddinson withdrew from a Test audition. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty

"There's no question, this is a huge thing for me and something that the ACA and Cricket Australia need to work together to be able to support the players, as much as we have to and try and limit the burden," Watson told The Daily Telegraph.

"It's not just in cricket … it's wider society: Mental health is coming to the fore, as it should.

"Beforehand it was just shut behind closed doors, whereas now people are actually talking about it which is a great thing and it needs to happen.

"But the support needs to be there, to be able to limit the chances of one of our best players needing to have time away to be able to get back to where he or she needs to from a mental health point of view.

"When you're playing non-stop and you don't have breaks and especially when you get to a certain age as well and you start thinking about what life is potentially going to look like when you finish playing, those are the times when the support needs to be there, even more so."

 

Glenn Maxwell is taking a break from the game. AAP/Darren England
Glenn Maxwell is taking a break from the game. AAP/Darren England

 

Watson's appointment as ACA President is similar to the AFL player association model, where a prominent player in Patrick Dangerfield is the President and face of the organisation.

Greg Dyer stays on as a Chairman, in more of a behind the scenes leadership role on the executive.

"I've always been very passionate (about the players association) and very much for what is fair," said Watson.

The Orygen survey commissioned by CA and the ACA - which takes about 30 minutes to complete - examines different factors like travel and stress, and also external issues like gambling and relationships.

 

Will Pucovski has been open about his mental health challenges. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright
Will Pucovski has been open about his mental health challenges. Picture: AAP/Richard Wainwright

 

It was first administered in 2015 and then 2016, and the current research which has already surveyed 85 per cent of the playing group, will allow the knowledge pool to evolve further and focus on asking players what they actually want.

"There's a lot going on and a lot of it is with the ACA. It's a complex area. It's not just a matter of saying, well you need more doctors or physios or psychologists," said CA's head of medical, Alex Kountouris.

"If you have a sore hamstring, it doesn't really matter which physio (looks at it), but when it comes to mental health it's all about relationships. Getting the right people in the right places and getting a flexible service model."