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August 22, 2011 10:27 pm

Depression on cricket’s long and winding road

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How long it seems since the ICC World Cup came to a spectacular end with the hosts India regaining the trophy after a 28-year wait. And because of my ethnic background I had the advantage of being able to follow more than one team.

But there was one particular moment during the course of the tournament that had a particular effect, not only on the general cricket-watching public but also on myself on a very personal level.

This was when England’s all-rounder Michael Yardy flew back to England suffering from depression.

My sympathy was very much with the player because, much as I hate to admit it, depression is something I have suffered from for more than 15 years.

It made me wonder how this could happen to a sportsman who travels to the sunniest and warmest climates plying a trade I am sure they love.

Depression is described in academic terms as: “a mental illness characterized by an all-encircling low mood accompanied by low self esteem, and by the loss of interest in anything that a normal person would enjoy in normal every day circumstances.”

My concern was why a cricketer had to admit to suffering from this – unfortunately cutting short a pretty successful international career. And Yardy was not the first. Former England Test and one-day international opener Marcus Trescothick also admitted suffering from depression, leading to him pulling out of the 2006-07 Ashes tour and later out of the international game totally.

If you were to ask any cricket aficionado, they would say their dream job would be to travel and play the game the world over in all the luxurious – or even not so luxurious – destinations. But what about the men and women already on the treadmill that is modern cricket?

The England cricket team are a prime example. They play cricket almost all year round, a large part of that in foreign lands on long and arduous tours. What effect does that have on a player’s health? Not seeing family and loved ones for vast amounts of time, being stuck in strange hotels, suffering from fatigue caused by constant travel, jumping from one plane to another.

England played five Tests in last winter’s successful Ashes campaign, moving from one corner of the country to another. Perth is a five-hour journey by air from any of the other major cricketing centres. That was followed by a tortuous sequence of ODIs that basically involved a player living out of a suitcase. How detrimental can this be to anyone’s mental health?

The question might not be if but when the next player will have to retire or stop playing international cricket due to the incessant demands of the game. There is hardly any recuperation after winter tours, as they tend to lead straight into the English domestic season, which most times is preceded by a pre-season tour, often abroad.

Even from a purely physical point of view, take a look at the ever-growing casualty list for the Indian team touring England in the wake of the intensity of the IPL tournament and playing in the West Indies.

There has to be a line drawn, so players in the future do not have this mental disorder exacerbated. Tours need to be more regulated, mental assessment should be regularly carried out and concerns looked at with all necessary care if required.

Unless one suffers from it, depression can be invisible to the outside world. Trust me, when you can’t do things that for a normal person would be just that, it can be extremely distressing and leave you in complete anguish.

The respective cricket boards should take immediate notice of this. Yardy has had great support from his county side Sussex, who have helped with the recuperation process. Somerset eased Trescothick back in gently, and he is now on top form as a high-scoring captain.

But how many other professional sportsmen out there are suffering from this illness? This isn’t an imaginary disease, it’s very real and in cases can lead to great harm if the right care isn’t provided.

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