"I always felt anxiety prior to the start of a big game. Once action commenced, I lost the earlier sensation. It was replaced by a sort of tense exhilaration which, at the conclusion of a match, often gave way to a severe reaction."
With these words in Farewell To Cricket, Sir Donald Bradman described the mental and physical toll of his batting and captaincy feats for Australia. Following his latest triumph at Allan Border Medal night in Melbourne, the current captain Steven Smith spoke similarly about how his Ashes exertions weighed heavily on an underwhelming ODI series that followed.
"I was absolutely ruined after the one-dayers," Smith said. "It takes a lot out of you, an Ashes series. Particularly with every Test match going five days and the extra pressures that comes with an Ashes series. I was certainly feeling it mentally. And the last 10 or 12 days that I've had off, it's been great. I haven't picked up a bat and now I'm keen to get the bat back in my hands, which probably means it's been good and I'm ready to go."
"It's hard to admit it when you're playing because you don't want to tell yourself these kinds of things, but I was really tired at the back end of those one-dayers. I think the way I was batting and where my mind was at a couple of weeks earlier, it was in a place that I didn't quite enjoy."
For Bradman, the most severe of his "reactions" arrived after the 1934 Ashes tour of England, where he entered the trip already run down, scored his runs more inconsistently than usual, and collapsed with acute appendicitis soon after the series concluded. Following emergency surgery, either side of which Bradman wrote "there can be no doubt that for some time I hovered on the brink of eternity", he convalesced for some months in Europe alongside his wife Jessie. Bradman duly missed the whole of the 1934-35 home season, and in 1935-36 he captained South Australia to the Sheffield Shield, having been ruled out of travelling to South Africa. The whole episode cost him two years.
"Though most of the parallels drawn between Bradman and Smith concern their batting dominance, the physical and mental strain placed upon them also makes for worthwhile comparison"
"Despite its attendant anxiety, my illness brought about the only thing which could possibly restore me to reasonable health," he wrote. "An overdose of cricket and and the cricket atmosphere demanded, as an antidote, such things as a quiet beach, a sailing skiff, a country farm or some such uncricketing atmosphere. Like so many people, I would not have voluntarily taken these remedial measures. Now they were forced upon me."
Though most of the parallels drawn between Bradman and Smith concern their batting dominance, the physical and mental strain placed upon them also makes for worthwhile comparison. In each of Smith's past two major Test series, a pattern of mental and physical fatigue has emerged, leaving open the question of how much the selectors should intervene to ensure he gets regular rest.
After last year's India series, in which Smith was at his best, he revealed that by the end of the four Tests he was hitting the ball as well as ever but lacked the mental reserves to stay at the crease for long periods. "I'd done a lot of batting in that series and even leading up to the last Test match, I hit an unusually low amount of balls before the game, because I just wanted to get in the middle and give everything I had left," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I was mentally fatigued, and it was just about seeing and hitting the ball in the last Test match, and not thinking too much.
"I think at one point I hadn't made 10 and I hit Umesh Yadav over cover for four, something I wouldn't normally do in a Test match. I was so mentally drained that I just didn't have anything left. I've never got to that point before."
India was followed by periods of inactivity, but he did not make another hundred for Australia in any form of the game prior to the Ashes. When Smith did turn out to lead Australia against Joe Root's touring team, he was able to summon deep mental reserves in which to bat for long periods. It is likely this whole series stretched Smith rather more than was accounted for at the time, given the uncertainty around Australia's batting around him, and also the fact he did not enter the series in the best batting touch.
As Smith observed of why he had been able to succeed during the Ashes: "Whenever I feel like my mind's going off the job, I quickly recognise that and get myself back into where it needs to be. I have been able to do it for those long periods of time, and sustained the pressure of the first Test of an Ashes series. The most pleasing thing for me is that my mind has gone to another level."
This is all without mentioning the anxiety of a captain. Smith gave plentiful insight to the anguish he can face after the day-night Adelaide Test, during which England had threatened to chase down a steep fourth-innings target. On the fourth night, with Root well-entrenched in a tally of 4 for 176 chasing 354, Smith paced his room with boundless nerves, and made a post-match confession about his mental state.
"I had to have a sleeping pill last night," Smith said after Josh Hazlewood helped engineer a 120-run victory. "It has been a pretty tough 24 hours, it's all part of being captain of your country, you have to make difficult decisions and sometimes you're going to make the wrong decision. I'll think back and reflect what I could have done differently, just areas I can continue to improve in my leadership and captaincy as well."
All these trials resulted in a drained Smith leading the ODI team to a 4-1 series loss against a refreshed England, led by Eoin Morgan. While he was adamant about leading the team, a position he has maintained ever since facing some media criticism for coming home early from the 2016 tour of Sri Lanka, Smith was able to say in hindsight that he should have taken a break.
"You could probably see it in the one-dayers that we played, the guys that had played Test cricket throughout the summer were probably just not quite at their best mentally," Smith said this week. "We probably saw that in our performances - the guys that came in fresh and had been playing a bit of white-ball cricket in the Big Bash, they were playing some good cricket."
While Smith has now enjoyed some time in the "uncricketing atmosphere" Bradman spoke of, it is David Warner who now needs to find a way of resting before the South Africa Tests. Australia's selectors will need to remain vigilant about ensuring that neither man is overtaxed.
"It's nice to know that if I do have a rest that Davey can stand up and do a terrific job," Smith said. "I hate resting and I don't like doing it, I like playing every game possible, but sometimes it's just not how it works and I think they made a wise decision for a lot of the Test guys to not be playing in these T20s."
One of the more revealing statements made this week was by the national coach Darren Lehmann, who spoke of Smith and Warner as "your leaders", suggesting a greater level of flexibility between the pair than traditionally exists. With Warner already possessing many fans - both within the team and outside it - as a T20 captain, and Ricky Ponting emerging as a likely specialist T20 coach when he and Cricket Australia can make it work, the question of dual leaders is becoming more pertinent.
"You've got your leaders in Steven and David and you need one of them to captain, so that's the reason behind it from the selection panel, making sure we've got constant messaging through our leaders," Lehmann had said. "Steven's had his break, David will get a little mini-break."
What all parties are seeking to avoid is an enforced break of the kind Bradman faced from 1934 to 1936. While the 1935-36 touring team to South Africa prospered under the leadership of Victor Richardson and the spin bowling of Bill O'Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett, it is difficult to imagine the present side doing similarly well on the forthcoming tour - and those beyond - without having Smith in good shape both physically and mentally.