Cautionary tale for Burns’ fatigue

Cautionary tale for Burns’ fatigue

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Joe Burns was due to be at New Road this week, helping Lancashire against Worcestershire in Division Two of the County Championship.

Instead he is home in Brisbane, resting, after it was revealed he had been diagnosed with post viral fatigue disorder following a virus in October last year.

It is not an illness that is widely understood but it is far from uncommon. Whilst it is believed Burns’ diagnosis has been detected early and Queensland and Cricket Australia medical staff are expecting him to make a swift and strong recovery, the news made former Australia Under-19 captain and Western Australia batsman Rob Baker shudder.

“I get a sick feeling in my stomach,” Baker told ESPNcricinfo.

Baker was a rising star among a golden generation of WA batsmen in the 1990s. He captained Australia’s U-19s on a tour of India in 1994, leading a squad featuring Michael Hussey, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Andrew Symonds, against an India line-up with VVS Laxman in their middle order.

Baker broke into the strong WA Sheffield Shield side and made 83 in the 1995-96 Shield final, where South Australia held on for a thrilling draw. In 1998-99 he made a century and three half-centuries in 13 innings, averaging a tick under 50, and played in WA’s last Shield-winning final, against Queensland.

But just as his career was set to take off in 1999-2000 after a solid start to the season, he was struck down with illness ahead of a tour match against Pakistan.

“I just came down with this horrible virus that was just one of those ones where you’re just hot and cold, sweating, I was really disoriented, it really messed with my balance and pretty much went to bed for a week and said I can’t play this game,” Baker recalled. “I gradually got a bit better, got a bit stronger, never felt quite right but after two weeks or so I thought, ‘I need to get out there and train, they need me for the next Shield game’.

“Halfway through that next game I starting coming down with the same thing again and was just feeling absolutely rotten and it really spiraled from there.

“The doctors were not really knowing [what was wrong] and I was getting asked by the coach and the captain to get out there and play, which obviously I wanted to do as well, and I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing until…I was never right, my form suffered.”

An on-field collision and a fractured cheekbone actually ended his season but Baker was eventually properly diagnosed with post viral or chronic fatigue syndrome. It is an umbrella term that is used to define ongoing, often debilitating, fatigue symptoms that can occur in the aftermath of a broad range of viral infections. It can manifest in many different forms but ongoing physical and mental fatigue, and never-ending hangover-type symptoms are the most common experiences, although a host of other issues, as Baker experienced, can occur in conjunction with that.

“I was vomiting before playing a local club match because my body was just freaking out, all stuff that would never have even bothered me the slightest in the past”

“For some people it literally can be some rest and looking after yourself and before you know you’re back to yourself, like probably Simon Katich, who had a bit of the similar stuff about the same time that I ended up with my more serious version of it,” Baker said. “[Katich] was able to recover after having a few months rest and being well managed and obviously went on and did great things.

“Obviously for myself, it was very, very confusing at the time, not really understanding what was going on. The doctors not properly understanding what was going on and being very headstrong. In your own mind thinking that you can keep pushing through it and it’ll go away and you’re far too mentally tough for something like this to knock you down only to be taught a pretty harsh lesson I guess.

“I think it’s almost once your body reaches a point where it doesn’t want to be pushed like that anymore it just goes into shut down and it’s a very, very long journey back from then.”

Baker only managed five Shield games in the 1999-2000 season while Katich played seven. Both men averaged below 30 and neither could bat long enough to make more than 80.

But while Katich made a full recovery, scoring six centuries and 1145 runs in the 2000-01 Shield season to get himself on the 2001 Ashes tour which began an impressive international career, Baker never played another Shield game, and he only managed a handful of List A matches, state 2nd XI games and some grade cricket thereafter.

“The WACA contracted me for the next year and they were supportive of me trying to work my way back in but obviously it reached a point where I needed to be out on the field and I was just never right,” Baker said. “I just kept getting worse and worse and your body just starts to break down. I ended up with all sorts of dreadful digestive issues, central nervous system issues, anxiety. I was vomiting before playing a local club match because my body was just freaking out, all stuff that would never have even bothered me the slightest in the past.

“I knew I had to go away and get well and unfortunately that turned out to be a nearly decade-long journey from about my early to mid-20s to my early to mid-30s until I really got my genuine quality of life back.”

Whilst Burns’ issues are understood not to be close to Baker’s extreme version of post viral fatigue syndrome, there are lessons to be learned with the illness.

“There wasn’t any single one thing that helped me get better, it was a lot of gradual things along the way that helped me get back together,” Baker said. “I obviously don’t know exactly where Joe is at, how early they’ve caught it and how he’s travelling right now but if he knows in his own head that he isn’t genuinely improving and feeling stronger each day and was putting all sorts of pressure on himself to be ready for the Ashes – then absolutely my advice would be to stop.

“Just give yourself the time, even if it means missing this Ashes. That would be my advice. Life after cricket is long – okay you might miss the Ashes – but you can probably build your way back into the cricket side. But if you push yourself and completely break yourself you might not play much more cricket and you might be pretty crook for a long time.”

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