Mental health seems to be the new area of concern among cricketers. Players, especially from Down Under, are the latest in the list of cricketers who realize that they need therapy and help. Counselling is what they feel will put them back on track to play the game at the top level in a cool, calm and confident manner.
In the progressive countries around the world, a sportsmen have matured enough to speak out about their mental state and seek medical help, which has become an essential part of their recovery. 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. One did feel sorry for their plight, but for most, it felt like the cricketers were not man enough to take the pressures of Test cricket.
I did meet 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 and 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 has also spoken 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 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 the people around me that it will 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 do so and to admit it.
In India, not only a cricketer, but also the people around him are afraid to speak about their mental illness. Although the maturity level is gradually improving amongst the educated, majority of people still consider it to be something that is to be hidden.
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. He may never see the light of the day to play again as not many will understand his problems.
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 his issues and establishing one without condemning him for his shortcomings would be essential for the welfare of the players in India. Maybe a 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, but a cricketer knows it well from the first time he puts his foot onto the ground. A one ball game for a batsman, who has no recourse for a comeback and so has to survive and is always on edge. The satisfaction and accomplishment that a batsman gets once he does well is what drives him back during his days of failure.
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 more of a concern. The pressures of doing well mostly put by one’s parents, relatives and well-wishers and then failing to deliver could be quite a trauma for the young shoulders. An U-17 and U-19 cricketer presently 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 a 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. The corporate world has understood this and companies have started taking areas such as emotional quotient (EQ) and stress seriously and cricket, especially in India, needs to do so as well.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)