The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- New types of burnout are attracting attention

Sunil Gavaskar, who now heads the powerful cricket committee of the sport's world governing body, has said that the burnout theory was nonsense and hard grind was part of the cricketer's honour of representing one's country. 'I would be willing to sweat 365 days in a year for India,' he said. 'Those who can't stand the heat should stay out.' The president of the Federation of International Cricketers' Association and former Australian off-spinner, Tim May, however, reacted in a very different way. This was after the world champions struggled recently to beat the minnows Bangladesh in a test. They had gone into that series less than a week after ending a gruelling tour of South Africa. The exhausted Australian fast bowler, Brett Lee, said after that match that he was 'running on fumes'.

May predicts that the main players would be drained by the time the World Cup begins in the Caribbean next March. 'Guys start going through the motions,' he said, 'their bodies are extremely fatigued. They just can't keep doing it. Some players are already making a stand.'If that's good for the game, I'm in the wrong business.'

Both Gavaskar and May are cricketing giants. Their strong words are obviously meant to stir up the world cricketing community. They have more than succeeded in that: they made several other well-known leaders of the cricketing community and the sports media sit up. Many are bristling in disagreement, but some others are expressing happiness at Gavaskar's (respectively May's) restating what many see as clear verity. I find I am strongly in agreement with both sides.

This may look a bit surprising, but may not necessarily be the beginning of senility. If my readers were to look into the literature on burnout ' accumulating over 30 years in different social sciences ' they too might have seen the so-called burnout did not mean the same thing to everyone who dealt with stress-related problems in a particular sphere of activity.

The original idea of a burnout was simple. The meaning was literal, given by applied physicists and engineers, who were on solid ground when they worried about machine fatigue and heating-up due to the inherent inefficiency of some order, seen in the conversion of one kind of energy, say electricity, to another, say light.

The idea of burnout was picked up in the human sciences when similar looking bouts of worker inefficiency started to assume serious proportions. The first on the scene were the psychologists and the economists, who began by using what J.K. Galbraith would have called their 'conventional wisdom'. For a quick look into conventional wisdom I have chosen two studies.

One is a review of literature by Craig R. Scott (2001) of the psychological researches on burnout carried out over the last 30 years. The other is an economist's simple game-theoretic analysis of burnout by Roger McCain in Game Theory: A Non-Technical Introduction to the Analysis of Strategy (2004).

Scott finds burnout reported on a large scale by the social scientists in the 'human service' professions (nursing, care of the aged, community service) where the workers are supposed to be doing what now some call 'meaningful work'. It is here that workers, after first putting in long and devoted years of service, were seen losing part of their motivation for hard work and zeal for excellence after a time. Burnout was found frequently linked to three factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization related to the work environment, and a sense of diminishing personal accomplishment.

In all this communication played a central role. It is communication that allows searching for problems and providing possible support within the work group or the larger organization. Empathy properly communicated in time can save a burnout or shorten the recovery time. In the absence of an understanding environment, Scott says, 'idealistic young men and women who, while working harder and harder, sacrificing their own health in the process of meeting ideals larger than themselves' would eventually destroy themselves.

To McCain, who looks at burnout as a game-theoretic phenomenon in economics, however, the crisis arises because there is no wage system yet discovered that can reward 'meaningful work' all the way up so that a motivated worker will be given recognition for making greater effort in the work that satisfies herself, but not necessarily the company that employs her. Beyond a point the company will not care, and if she tries working harder she will necessarily go without commensurate recognition.

That will be the burnout point.

Important as these approaches are, the scourge of burnouts now catching attention has an altogether new dimension not captured by the literature at all. The new burnout afflicts only the great and the famous. Are we perhaps using the wrong name for a new disease that does not afflict workers at all levels' It raised its head first in academic fields like university teaching and advanced scientific research. The game here was always competitive, even cut-throat, but now it is played on killing fields.

The same disease is spreading like wildfire in another arena that has its own academic connotations ' sports and athletics, particularly segments that have highly prized and publicized competitions like the World Cups and the Olympics. The new disease takes not the hindmost. It eats into the psyche of the very best, the most successful, the most beloved idol of the crowds. Let me give you my own honest opinion on the disease as I see it. Mine, as my readers should expect, is only an educationist's view.

Throughout history there have been two alternative ways of looking at the social usefulness of human capital. For simplicity I will call them the Lyceum mode of Ancient Athens and the Amphitheatre mode of Ancient Rome. Both modes were known to many countries including ancient Egypt and India.

The Lyceum, like other famous Athenian gymnasia (such as the Academy) was a space for physical exercise and philosophical discussion, reflection, and study. The words, exercise and practice, did not distinguish between the different disciplines of academics in the Greek of Ancient Athens as they do not in the English language. The purpose of academic discipline was to build a better specimen of humanity for all people to admire.

Such were the role models for the youth of ancient Athens. By contrast to the gymnasia, the ancient Roman amphitheatres were arenas carefully prepared for fulfilling some of the most terrible wishes that could be wished by a depraved humanity. Here the icon was the gladiator who, like the sangshaptaks must either win or be slain in combat unless spared by a whimsical mob watching the match. To go back to present-day woes: India had a band of four batsmen ' possibly the most formidable batting quartet in world cricket. Each of the four had his own special style and all four were thinking cricketers. The quartet now stands dismantled, arguably by abuse and misuse by the system.

The most famous of the quartet was Sachin Tendulkar, perhaps still the world's best batsman. But everybody is aware of his huge fall in form due to injuries, possibly aggravated by neglect or lack of time for full healing. The second, V.V.S. Lakshman, is usually unassuming. But he has hidden reserves of power that come out to awesome effect against champion teams in times of danger. He was omitted in the last World Cup and is now neglected, made to sit in the greenroom and wait for a speaking part. The third, Sourav Ganguly, was the dazzling knight errant in the quartet, India's best-ever captain, loved icon of millions of Indian youth. His form dropped too. The coach, Greg Chappell, former Australian captain, reported against him for this and other vague transgressions. Ganguly was summarily dismissed from captaincy and the team. He was the only Indian captain ever to be so openly humiliated.

The fourth of the quartet, Rahul Dravid, India's new captain, is the youngest of the four. Probably the world's best defensive batsman, Dravid survives in every situation ' he is the Indian Wall. Cracks appeared lately, but healed. Why have we let the quartet go like this' Why are we helpless against the Caesars who want gladiators to die for the general merriment in the amphitheatre' Chappell said players were to be treated as commodities. Are you saying the same thing' For myself I rather fancied the Lyceum.

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