Ben Stokes retires from ODI following burnout; why can't Indian cricketers be given breaks for mental health?

Hectic schedules, judgement, and criticism from former players and fans alike, it's no wonder our best players aren't able to perform on field

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes

NH Web Desk

With Ben Stokes announcing his retirement from One-Day Internationals a few days ago, the cricket world is in shock. But former cricketers are pointing to one common aspect of the sudden retirement- the international schedules. India, England and Australia majorly play most cricket among all ten teams.

For example, during the England tour (July 1-17), England and India played one Test and six limited-overs matches. On July 19, England was back in the field to play the ODI vs South Africa again.

While speaking to the BBC after his ODI retirement, Stokes had slammed the England and Wales Cricket Board. Stokes said that cricketers are not like cars who run on fuel. He added that he hopes by taking this decision, he is able to play cricket at some level even at 36.

"There is too much cricket rammed in for people to play all three formats now. We are not cars, you can't just fill us up and we'll go out there and be ready to be fuelled up again. Hopefully, when I'm still playing at 36, I can look back at this moment and say it was a big reason behind why I'm still able to get out on the park and represent England in Test cricket," said Stokes.

Nasser Hussain, former England captain, has backed Stokes' statement, saying that excessive cricket is leading to burnout of players. He gave the examples of Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson to prove his point.

"Some might suggest 80 per cent of Stokes is enough but the problem is that once you play at 80 per cent, it can lead to a drop in performance in another format. Just look at what has happened to Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, for example. He doesn’t want to become stale," Hussain was quoted by Daily Mail column.

Remember the historic 2020 Border Gavaskar Trophy in Australia? In the final test, India had to use their net bowlers to ensure that they have 11 players in the team. Reason being that Ashwin, Jadeja, and Bumrah were injured. No one spoke about their burnout because when we win, we forget about the challenges we have gone through.

Virat has taken a break from international cricket after the conclusion of the England tour. He has gone to Paris with his wife Anushka Sharma and daughter Vamika. His decision to rest was criticised by many former cricketers who felt that when he is out of form, he should not be resting. Kohli has been out of form for a long time now, failing continously since IPL 2022. He has also not scored a single international century since November 2019.

Many top players have quit playing all three formats because of the ruthless schedule.

Look at India cricket teams’ schedule for the last few years. Or look ahead. Even without factoring in quarantine, isolation, and bubbles, it is tiring. According to a report in the Hindustan Times, overseas players' common sentiment when looking at the Indian team is, “I don’t know how they do it”.

"No matter how much one may like to bat, I assure you that no cricketer voted to play a bilateral series two days after a World Cup final where India were among the favourites," a source told HT.

But unlike the Indian Cricket Team, the England Test squad looks very different from their limited overs squads, giving most players breaks. And the all-format players are subject to a rotation policy. Vitally, their culture allows for their star players to take indefinite breaks on mental health grounds. We need to wonder why India’s cricketers can't have the same luxury.

Just remember the Asia Cup of 2018, when Virat Kohli was on leave. Broadcasters Star wrote to the Asian Cricket Council complaining that the “best available teams” were not on show. There was sharp criticism when Kohli missed a few games for something as normal as paternity leave? Why is it hard to see an Indian cricketer take time away from the game for mental health or personal reasons?

Talking about mental health and the effects of bubble-life on the players, Kohli had once said, “These periodic breaks are very important for cricket and for cricketers, because if you don’t have players fit, then the quality of cricket is hard to maintain”.

But as Kapil Dev has said, “If you play good cricket, a lot of bad things get hidden”. A source who has worked inside IPL bubbles revealed the most common phrase among the players: “Pak gaye. Aur kitna?” (“We have had enough. How much more?”), reported Hindustan Times.

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