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Crazy Days

The England team's official psychiatrist Dr. Jeremy Snipe has been an essential part of every Ashes series since 1981. But his vital work with mentally ill England test stars has largely gone unreported ... until now! In this exclusive article Dr. Snipe reveals the methods he used to help the worse afflicted and tells of the toughest nuts he ever had to crack.

I started out as a fresh-faced student at the Royal College of Cricket Psychiatry in London's St John's Wood under the world renowned psychologist - and first-class umpire - Dr. Sigmund Fraud.

Dr. Fraud was a pioneer in the use of psychoanalytical techniques to treat cricketing problems. His most famous work was in the 1950s when Middlesex's star batsman Denis Compton was at his run-scoring peak. Many of Compton's batting contemporaries were very jealous of the amount of runs the Brylcream Boy was making and came to Dr. Fraud for help. Fraud's subsequent pioneering work on 'Denis Envy' became a landmark of cricket psychiatry, as did his subsequent books: The Interpretation of Umpires' Dreams (1973) and his study of mental illness amongst umpires on the county circuit: You Don't Have To Be Mad To Officiate Here ... But I Am (1975).

After graduating I began treating cricketing patients on a one-to-one basis at Dr. Fraud's private clinic in Harley Street. It was a constant stream of troubled individuals: schizophrenic score card sellers, paranoid wicket keepers, bi-polar nightwatchmen.

So, it was with great excitement, mixed with some trepidation, that I began working with the England cricket team in 1981 as the team's official 'shrink'. And it wasn't long before I faced a major crisis.

1981 and all that

As we all know the 1981 Ashes series was a topsy-turvy affair and England recovered from a nightmare start to win - thanks mainly to the efforts of Ian Botham, Bob Willis ... well, let's be honest ... myself.

Dr. Sigmund Fraud (right) researching his book on tea ladies' sexual fantasies about The Goodies: 'My Secret Graeme Garden'.

Confidence was low after losing the first test and going into the third game at Headingley 1-0 down. After nabbing a pair in the second test poor Beefy Botham felt he had to resign as captain and was replaced by another 'bad boy' Mike Brearley.

But during the test at Headingley things were looking so bad, after being made to follow-on, that the players were checking out of the hotel, resigned to certain defeat. I knew radical measures were needed ... and quick, or else the entire series would be lost.

Primal Therapy is a radical treatment which believes that the repressed pain of childhood trauma is the main cause of adult psychological dysfunction. I decided to get the players in and, as a group, explore what is was in their early experiences that was preventing them from performing at their best.

My original idea was to hold a 'rebirthing workshop' in which each player would re-experience the struggle of trying to break out of the birth canal by being pulled out from under an umpire's coat (borrowed from Barry Meyer) by the remaining members of the group. However, I had to quickly abandon this idea after Goochy got his moustache stuck on a Velcro fastening on the 'womb' nearly pulling his face off and he refused to take further part in proceedings.

Instead I sat the players round in a big circle on the floor, told them to close their eyes and think about their childhood memories. Some thought of happy times but for others the tears soon began to flow.

Dr. Fraud might have been thinking of Mike Brearley when he came up with this one.

Bob Willis began to get very upset thinking about his old pet hamster 'Hammy' who had died tragically when the pace man was just 10 years old. Through his tears Willis told the room that he had let Hammy out of his cage and, whilst he had been distracted by the television, had forgotten about his beloved pet until he accidentally trod on him whilst getting up to change the channel during Rolf on Saturday OK. Apparently the bearded popular entertainer was just about to launch into Blowin' In The Wind on his wobble board and the young Willis thought that this was disrespectful to his hero Bob Dylan. Sadly, it was Hammy who paid the ultimate price, squashed under big Bob's size 12s. The guilt of this tragic act had haunted the curly-haired quick ever since.

It was just the breakthrough I had been looking for. I looked the weeping Willis directly in his tear-filled eyes and said: "Rolf Harris, remind me, what nationality is he?"

"Australian," moaned Willis between sobs.

"Right. So whose fault was it that Hammy got squashed?"

Of course, Willis went out the next day and avenged the rodent's death by bagging 8 for 31. I will always remember him shouting "and that's for Hammy" as he removed Ray Bright's middle stump to secure a sensational victory.

Sometimes a sharp mind isn't enough. My training techniques on self defence for umpires helped many an official escape a tricky situation.

Beefy originally didn't think much of my Primal Therapy idea. He was still smarting at his treatment at the hands of the Lord's members and he wasn't in the mood to reveal his childhood fears. New captain Mike Brearley and myself had to work very hard to persuade him to take part in the session. Luckily for us he had seen how the other England hard-man Peter Willey had told the group how he had never got over his dad telling him he couldn't play with dolls. If Willey could open up then so could Beefy.

Beefy told his stunned team mates how he used to visit the sweet shop in the market on his way home from school and buy a bag of jelly babies from the friendly stall holder Mr. Grubb. One day Mr. Grubb told young Beefy that he had some nice new puppies to show him. Always an animal lover the young all-rounder had quickly accepted Mr. Grubb's offer to show him the little dogs, which were in a "special kennel" in the park. However when they got there there were no puppies to be seen, only Mr. Grubb standing in the bushes with - according to Both - a "funny looking bar of nougat in his hand."

"There never was any puppies" I told Beefy as he recounted the incident. "Mr. Grubb was a dirty old man. That wasn't nougat he was holding."

Botham looked aghast ."You mean, he ...". He couldn't finish the sentence, so upsetting was the sudden realisation.

"Yes and he's here today. He's got a confectionery stand in this very ground" I was thinking on my feet; anything to get the all-rounder fired up again. "He's here and he's still hasn't got any puppies."

The rest, they say, is history.

Jimmy Saville demonstrates the size of the young Gatt's record breaking pancake.

Childlike faith in childhood's end

Childhood trauma and old television programmes played their part on the Ashes winning tour of 1986/87 too. The team were pretty confident of success. They had some great players: Beefy, Lamby, Broady and Embers, who were pretty much up for anything. But there was one player who was facing big problems: Mike Gatting - and he was the captain!

Gatt had been traumatised as a child when he appeared on an early episode of Jim'll Fix It. He'd written to the programme asking Jim if he could eat the world's biggest pancake. His letter had been successful and before he knew it he was whisked off to the BBC in a limo with nothing more than a knife and fork. Norris McWhirter from Record Breakers was there too, making sure that Gatt's bid, if successful, would end up in the Guinness Book of Records.

Things soon started to go wrong ... very wrong. Something had happened to him whilst he was sitting on Saville's knee in his Magic Chair. It might have been the pressure, it might have been the size of the pancake, it might have been shell-suit clad Sir Jimmy's expectant stare but the young Gatt could only manage one mouthful before blurting out "take it away, I'm not hungry".

Ever since then he'd had flashbacks whenever he saw someone in a gold tracksuit

And what colour were the Australian's bright, shiny new tracksuits? You guessed it ... gold!

Gatt took one look at the opposition in the nets and promptly curled up in the foetal position. Despite the best efforts they simply couldn't move him. I was back at the hotel helping a distressed tea lady when the call came.

Time to relax. Here I am taking a well earned break in sunny Sydney.

Seems like poor Gatt had never got over the humiliation of not finishing his record breaking snack and it had led to some sort of sudden breakdown.

There was only one thing we could do. I quickly dressed blonde haired Graham Dilley up in a gaudy shell suit, fashioned some fake gold jewellery out of wrapping paper and gave him the biggest cigar I could find.

"You have to face your fears Gatt. It's the only way," I said, as I cradled the forlorn figure in my arms. "Look," I continued "here's Jim fixing it for you with another pancake. Eat it up Gatt, eat it all up."

Up came Dilley in his Saville costume driving a drinks trolley containing a pancake of epic proportions. The Aussie tea lady I had been assisting was able to grab eggs, milk and flour from the hotel kitchen and then cook the pancake on the wheels red hot heavy roller and it came up a dream.

"Now then, now then," said Graham Dilley in his best Saville accent "Guys and gals, it's young Michael Gatting from London town and he's going to eat this lovely, record breaking pancake. Hows about that then?"

Gatt looked up. There were tears in his eyes. But slowly and surely he edged towards the sweet smelling food and, tentatively at first, then greedily, began wolfing it down.

Hypnotising Angus Fraser proved to be a mistake. Luckily for Middlesex Raph Malph and Pottsy are unavailable as overseas players in 2011.

And once he started there was no stopping. Within a minute the pancake had gone and Gatt was on his way into the dressing room to start on the baked beans.

And we all know what happened after that, don't we. Gatt led the team to Ashes success and the old boy hasn't stopped eating since.

H to he who am the only one

A less successful outcome, however, occurred in another case.

After I joined the England set-up one of my first jobs proved to be one of the most challenging. The selectors had picked a dashing young batsman called Chris Tavare. Tavare had undoubted ability but he was an impulsive shot player who was unable to resist unleashing one of his expansive hooks, pulls or drives to every ball he faced.

I had just started studying hypnosis and I was keen to give it a try. The England skipper Mike Brearley asked me if I could have a quick word with Tavare and see if I could curb his attacking instincts. The team were up against an experienced Aussie attack who needed to be ground down rather than taken on. Tavare agreed to be my "guinea pig". As soon as I got him in the chair and wobbled the gold watch in front of his face he was gone. Whilst he was hypnotised I told him that his country needed him to block, block and block again. To begin with it worked like a dream.

Unfortunately, unbeknown to the England management I hadn't quite finished my hypnotism training, and I didn't know how to bring someone back to to normal. As a result of this I have to take the blame for Tavare never playing an attacking shot in his career again.

I can also now confess that blocking wasn't the only thing I hypnotised Tavs to do. I thought that I might get a career in showbiz as a stage hypnotist, so I took a bit of a liberty with the willing Kent batsman. I told him that whenever he heard an umpire shout "no ball" that he had to drop his trousers and do the River Dance. It wasn't too much of a problem until the tour to Australia in 1982 when Derek Pringle kept overstepping the crease and poor Tavare was forever loosening his strides at third slip whilst attempting some of the most extravagant dance moves ever seen on a field of play.

A well written psychology book can be of great benefit to the ordinary person.

I never did learn how to un-hypnotise someone - nor did my showbiz leanings disappear - so I am to blame for Angus Fraser thinking he was the Fonz throughout the 1989 series and for Michael Atherton speaking Chinese the whole time he was captain in 1995. Poor Angus still gives the thumbs-up and shouts "eyyy" every time he sees a woman under 30 and uses the gents toilet at Lord's as his 'office'.

KP nuts

The mind is always open to the power of suggestion. In 2005 I was called upon to help a shy young batsman who was completely lacking in self confidence. His name was Kevin Pieterson.

Pieterson had just qualified to play for England and had been picked ahead of Graham Thorpe in the squad for the first Ashes test. I was sad for Thorpy; I had helped him after he suffered his meltdown in the Kennington branch of Snappy Snaps but cricket can be a cruel business.

Poor Kevin was wracked with self doubt. "I'm rubbish," he would say to me "I don't believe that I am good enough to play at this level ... or any level. You have got to help me."

Luckily for Kevin - and for England - I had an old vinyl LP called Improve Your Self Confidence - the 10 Step Plan which I had used many times before with good results. I gave it to KP and told him to listen to it carefully and gradually his self - belief would improve.

With these programmes you are meant to take things gently, one step at a time. The problem was that KP wasn't used to vinyl and when he finally borrowed Duncan Fletcher's old Dansette record player he put the album on at 78rpm instead of 33. The information overload rather over-compensated for Kevin's original diffidence and turned him into something of an egotistical monster. Still, if he'd played it at 16 he'd have probably killed himself.