Sunday, February 24, 2008

The mental pressures of cricket

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

- Dylan

Life at the top is not easy – weeks of touring, living in hotels, not seeing family and friends and carrying the weight of expectation. Playing first class cricket comes with all this mental pressure and as well as physical demands. To this cauldron, add the pressure of trying to make it as a regular on one the best teams of all time and being seen as a comrade and a peer. Finally, when you start questioning your own abilities – whether you are good enough to get to the finish line, when your own perceived inadequacies tip the scale of possibilities, then this mental cauldron reaches a boiling point.

Shaun Tait does not deserve our wrath, nor our scorn; not does he deserve to be labeled a “coward” or “quitter” for “walking away”. He needs to be respected and given the space he deserves because he has made a tough, hard choice. He has had the presence of mind to realize that he is only 24 and that he is suffering from mental issues. He has a bright career ahead of himself if he decides to continue playing cricket. But I fully support his decision to take a break and rethink things.

Test cricketers are not unlike soldiers. They spend weeks on tour, whether it is a home series or an away one. To achieve the best results, total concentration is key and to achieve this concentration they try and create a comfort zone. As Gatting points out, family and friends are deliberately blocked out:

"You also get used to a certain way of life on tour. When you get home that suddenly changes.

"You've been used to doing what you want to do, and then suddenly there are other people in your life again who you have been trying not to think about for four months."

While we have seen an increasing number of international cricketers get injured because of the hectic demands of the cricketing calendar, we rarely see players raise their hands and admit to mental fatigue or depression. As this BBC article suggests, one in 6 of us suffers from mental distress. Further, David Frith’s book on cricket, "Silence of the Heart" suggests that the incidence of suicide among Test cricketers is higher than in the general population. If you do the math, we get to an alarming result – the law of averages suggests that atleast 2 players in a team are experiencing mental distress!

The greater problem, however, is that mental issues are seen as a sign of weakness, especially when compared to physical ones. Fans
find it impossible for a player who does battle in front of thousands of spectators to admit to mental frailties. We first idolize our sporting heroes and then put them on a pedestal which makes it impossible for us to believe that the construct of our fantasy can be flawed. But we must realize that our sporting heroes are only human and are subject to immense pressure. In recent times we have seen Trescothick and now Tait and Lou Vincent speak up. We have seen the symptoms such as Murali not touring Australia last time around. Is sledging just an outlet for all this mental pressure?

More importantly, how many other such players suffer silently?

Make your pitch on this post...

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7 Pitched:

  1. Soulberry said...

    Well said Obaid. I don't understand why people scorn Tait. This can happen to anyone and it is just a question of time to sort it all out.

    Those words are as easily applicaple to even us...the non-cricketers...and within the same city. One hardly gets to see enough of family at times in this demanding world of survival and growth.

    Living out of suitcases, in hotels can be dumb...for 17 years I grew up in hostels away from my family...while the fun of it was there (vcan't deny that!), it used to get tiresome at times, and I did make impromptou trips home.

  2. obaid said...

    Hey Soulberry, thanks for reading! Wow, 17 years in a hostel is a long time and you are right many of us can experience the same issues with our jobs and other pressures. Have you heard anyone at work taking a break because he is "stressed out". There should be medical leaves for that.

    I am as far away as possible from my family and personally Im looking forward to a trip home next month :)

  3. Soulberry said...

    We take "sick leave"....always a convenient delhi-belly around waiting to happen. But you are right...stress-realted illnesses are sadly considered the excuses of the delicate and lazy in these parts.

  4. Jrod said...

    I wonder if he had played against Adelaide and taken a bag whether his depression wouldn't have lifted.

    So i blame Brad Hogg and his straightuns.

  5. Q said...

    I know of Sami, Hasan Raza, and Imran Nazir who have or are suffering from severe depression due to their careers going no where. All 3 have joined the ICL.

    Psychologist and Psychiatrist visits are considered quite the norm in the West, however in Pakistan and probably also India discussing such illnesses and visits to the Psychs is a taboo subject. They feel ashamed and weak admitting to such things.

    Thus I'm not surprised that Trescothick, Tait, and Vincent have come out in the open. There may be more subcontinent cricketers who could be going through similar problems - I doubt any of them will ever admit.

    Mental depression is not uncommon and it should be accepted as an illness keeping one away from the game - as u have all mentioned its due to being away on long tours and living out of a suitcase in unfamiliar surroundings.

    Its not necessarily associated with bad performances.

  6. straight point said...

    excellent obaid!!

    actually we are all in denial mode...we all have been brought up on the lines of "mard ko dard nahi hota' and while we remain deeply hurt from inside we fear to tell it for society will see us a coward...

    we fail to understand that its far easy to hide pain you are going through but its take courage to say...yes there is some problem...

    we as a society should not discourage such bold gestures buy scorning them otherwise we will all become the victim of ourselves...

  7. obaid said...

    Good comments everyone and good points q and straightpoint about the cultural issue of men n ot wanting to show weakness in the subcontinent

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