Give mental health the care that it requires, because cricketers are humans after all
On 27 October 2019, Glenn Maxwell, in front of a packed house at the Adelaide Oval, dug deep into his enormous repertoire of strokes to produce a belligerent innings that gave the Sri Lankans a harsh welcome to Australian shores.
More promisingly though, the all-rounder seemed to be playing with freedom, something he hasn’t always had the luxury of - especially considering his enigmatic brand of batting. Unsurprisingly, many felt that Maxwell, a batsman capable of frustrating and mesmerizing in equal measure, had buried the ghosts of yesteryear in order to prepare himself for a splendid season ahead.
But just a few days after that manic batting display Maxwell withdrew from Australia’s squads, citing problems he had been facing regarding his mental health. Many were left surprised at the decision, more so because it had come on the back of an impactful performance.
Maxwell’s announcement has once again thrown light on the fact that despite being encompassed by the game for large swathes of the year, these cricketers are not entirely enamored by it. That is a lot more going on behind the scenes for these sportspersons - something the world has gradually come to grips with, but which still fails to get the requisite amount of care and help.
Apart from Maxwell, there have been several other high-profile cricketers who have gone through bouts of anxiety and depression despite seemingly being at the peak of their cricketing powers.
Marcus Trescothick, one of England’s greatest opening batsmen, candidly spoke about the problems he underwent and how difficult it was to get himself motivated to perform on the field. Jonathan Trott, another English batting stalwart, faced similar issues before that tour to Australia in 2013-14, where he lost himself amidst of the haze that had surrounded his health.
Sarah Taylor, arguably the greatest wicket-keeper to have graced the women’s game, also spoke very openly on how she managed to put to bed the demons that she considered unconquerable at one juncture. The circumstances for Taylor were so gloomy that she kept questioning herself about who she exactly was and what her purpose was.
Fortunately, each of the aforementioned cricketers had an extremely trustworthy group to fall back on - be it their family, or te people within the cricketing circuit. And slowly but surely, they reintegrated themselves to cherish the game they’d feared they’d fallen out of love with.
But despite the success of such cricketers in overcoming mental health problems, the world still looks at their predicaments a tad too skeptically. Though our generation has evolved significantly to be more empathetic towards such scenarios, mental health is still considered a bit of a taboo, especially in sport.
Most distressingly, some even believe it to be a sign of weakness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When one takes into account the countless battles that players have to partake and their efforts to emerge from the rubble unscathed, it seems a wonder that so few of them suffer the mental side effects of the strain.
The symptoms of mental health issues are well-documented but still not well-understood. When a person is going through depression or any other mental health problem, days seem much longer than usual and the yearning to see the sun after a dreary night is magnified exponentially. Moreover, even though there might be light at the end of the tunnel, you find yourself constantly analyzing whether there's just another freight train around the corner, all set to crash into them.
Nobody should have to suffer through that kind of a crisis. That is why, it is imperative that the top brass looks at certain safeguards to ensure that cricketers don’t go through such strife when trying to earn their living.
For a majority of the year, players are travelling across the globe, without their families, meaning that they might not have any avenue to get away from the game. That in turn could prompt many more self-introspection sessions where a player might be tempted to drive himself into the quicksand.
A probable solution could be having sports psychologists on board to enable the cricketers to vent out their feelings. That's because in such situations, more often than not, talking about the problem helps alleviate a lot of the stress.
Additionally, the stringent restrictions on the amount of time cricketers’ partners can spend on a tour could be eased a touch. That would allow the players to relax and brace themselves adequately for their cricketing journey.
But for anything of the sort to materialize, it is essential that the sporting fraternity starts accepting that mental health is indeed a serious issue that needs to be tackled. Looking the other way when something of this nature rears up is just not acceptable anymore.
There are some who argue that cricketers get paid huge sums of money to conduct themselves impeccably on the field and that they should be better equipped to handle such situations. However, we can’t ignore the fact that these players go through much more than the average person - be it the humongous scrutiny by fans and media, or the pressure of representing your country / state.
Hence, it becomes even more problematic if mechanisms aren’t developed to allow these sportspersons to function to the best of their abilities.
After all, despite everything that they might achieve on the sporting front, at the end of the day they are human beings who are prone to being overwhelmed by emotions. Safeguarding their mental health is the least that the sporting community can do at a basic humanitarian level, isn't it?