Cricketers prone to mental illness, need counselling and safety net

Fear of failure and the pressure under which cricketers play make them prone to various forms of mental illnesses. They need to be detected early and treated

Cricketers prone to mental illness, need counselling and safety net

Yajurvindra Singh/IANS

Mental health seems to be a growing area of concern among cricketers. An increasing number of celebrity players are owning up to stress, depression, loneliness and realise they need therapy and help to regain their confidence.

This is an illness which only the individual concerned can accept and it takes real courage to admit to it. One has to, therefore, admire the two Australian cricketers, Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson, one very much a part of the Australian national team and the other aspiring to play for his country once again.

Names like Marcus Trescothick, Jonathan Trott, Jimmy Neesham, Monty Panesar are some whom we can recollect having had mental issues in the past.

I met Marcus Trescothick during a fun corporate match around eight years ago at Lord's in England. He spoke about making a county comeback and the way he was timing the ball while having many helpings of his favourite scones.

One felt happy for him. Here was a cricketer who had established himself in the England side, came back from sickness to play for his county and once again went back into a state of mental uncertainty. The time that I had met him he had returned to play the game he loved, having signed a contract with his county Somerset once again.

Virat Kohli also spoke recently about his meltdown during India's tour of England in 2014. He said he did not have the courage to admit to it.

I do recall his state of mind during the Manchester Test match in 2014. India had decided to bat first under M.S. Dhoni's captaincy, on a cloudy, cold and heavy morning. With the openers getting out early, Kohli's walk to the middle was slow and it looked as if he was carrying a ton of weight on his shoulders.

He was to face Jimmy Anderson, the wonderful England swing bowler. I remember telling people around me that it would be a miracle if Kohli lasts the remaining deliveries from the pacer. His body language was so negative that he looked like a lamb for slaughter. He did fail, as I predicted, and now one realizes what he must have been going through mentally.

The One-day series later against England and the helping hand that he received from the then temporary and now India's present coach, Ravi Shastri, got him back among the runs. Thereafter, he has never looked back and his sprightly walk these days to the wicket shows his positive intentions and attitude. Not every cricketer is strong enough to make this change and one marvels at Kohli, even more, to have done so and to admit it.

In India, not just a cricketer, but also people around him are afraid to speak about his mental illness. An Indian cricketer whose lifeline depends on cricket is still not confident to relay his mental trauma. For him to lose his place in the side may keep him out permanently.

Indian cricket must have so many cricketers suffering quietly and this is where the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the newly formed Indian Cricketers Association (ICA) can play a part. A cricketer requires a confidante at home to discuss the issues and providing financial Insurance, similar to what the BCCI gives to a physically injured player, could be one way to start the process.

Cricket is a high-pressure game. A one ball game for a batsman, who has no recourse for a comeback and so has to survive and is always on edge.

Indian cricket needs to take mental illness seriously not only at the highest and senior levels but also at the junior levels. The pressure that an upcoming junior cricketer faces is even more of a concern.

The pressure of doing well exerted by one's parents, relatives and well-wishers and then failing to deliver could be quite a trauma for the young shoulders. A U-17 and U-19 cricketer in India has to give up his education for him to succeed in the competitive environment that he faces playing domestic cricket.

For him, it is a make or break situation, as failure could put him either on the shop floor of a factory or as a peon at an office. Talented youngsters should be the first lot to receive essential counselling and coaching.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)

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