Depression among players is cricket’s dark secret

On 31 October 2019, Glenn Maxwell, the swashbuckling and one of the most destructive batsmen of the modern game, announced that he would be taking a short break to deal with mental health issues. The news shocked many as Maxwell earlier that week had just smashed 62 runs off 28 balls versus Sri Lanka in a T20 match. But few knew what was brewing in the mind of this talismanic cricketer.

Maxwell, on realising that something was not right, had a talk with the support staff of the Australian team and announced his decision to the public. The support he received from Cricket Australia was heartwarming. The Head Coach Justin Langer publicly commented on the courage that it took Maxwell to say that he “wasn’t okay”.

 There has been a long history of cricketers suffering from mental health issues. The great Sir Richard Hadlee suffered from depression in the peak of his career in the 1980s. However, the issue got greater attention in 2006-07 when Marcus Trescothick stepped away from his illustrious England career when his battle with depression took a serious turn. Various English international players like Jonathan Trott, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison have come out and openly spoken about their struggles with mental health.

In boxing, Tyson Fury’s downward spiral after beating reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 has been well documented. It should be noted here that Fury suffered from depression immediately after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, the most coveted prize in boxing, showing that depression can afflict anyone, no matter which pedestal they are on. Extremely overweight, after having seemingly quit the sport, Fury lost an astounding 51 kgs when he made his comeback in 2018. Fury has been an inspiration to millions around the world as he has shared his struggles with the debilitating disease.

Back home, Praveen Kumar and more recently Robin Uthappa have also spoken about their tryst with depression. However, these players have spoken out after their retirement or after their days of playing for India have gotten over. It is noteworthy that none of the current Indian cricketers playing for the Indian national team have spoken about mental health in the open.

 There may be a few reasons for this. First, talking about mental health is still taboo in our country. People with mental health issues face discrimination in every field of life, right from social to professional. Second, taking a break from the Indian team is risky as there are numerous players who are ready to take their spot in the team. However, here it is important that the BCCI supports these players both behind the scenes and in the media also, just like Cricket Australia did with Maxwell.

Indian cricketers are our heroes. If any of them come out and speak about their issues with mental health, it will only increase their stature and admiration in our society. While, there will be those who will criticise them, our cricketers should think about the greater good and effect that their stand will have on millions who are suffering from mental health issues in our country.

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