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