Jonathan Trott pulled out after the first Ashes 2013-14 Test due to mental illness © Getty Images
By Peggy Zaman
“Depression” has become an oft-used word in modern cricket. Jonathan Trott, who left the Ashes tour midway, is the latest victim of the malaise plaguing international cricket. Because of the stigma attached to the malady, the team management and administrators preferred to behave as if nothing was wrong. And even on the rare occasion the admittance came, it was attributed to lack of steel in the player than the real cause.
As a former elite tennis player, I’d like to point out many similarities between cricket and tennis — both physically and mentally.
Accuracy: Just as in tennis, batting, bowling, and fielding need to be precise and accurate. A micro millimeter can be the difference for a batsman between nicking the ball or avoiding it. The degree of swing or spin a bowler imparts on the ball is critical to getting the edge of the bat or missing it altogether.
Concentration span: In contrast to runners and soccer players, tennis and cricket require short bursts of mental concentration and physically activity.
Reminiscing time: Tennis players and cricketers have several seconds or even minutes in between each shot. This gives them time to chew over their mistakes instead of focusing on the next delivery or point.
Loneliness and lack of support: Professional tennis players on the international circuit spend up to 50 weeks in a year playing away from home with their coaches and trainers. Similarly, cricket players spend approximately 44 weeks of the year living out of suitcases with their teammates, coaching team and back-up staff. The extensive schedules can isolate the players from their personal, family and spiritual support structures. This can be emotionally detrimental, particularly over long periods of time.
Injuries: The nature of both sports is similar in relation to the cause of injuries. The short sprints, the sudden twists and turns, lunges and dives, usage of the entire body and limbs can lead to a high number of injuries, both new and recurring. These injuries can cause emotional distress as the athletes react with various emotions which may include anger, denial, sadness and worry.
Career span: Both sporting careers can last from their teenage years to their late 30‘s. The players undergo similar lifestyles and experiences, in their teens and adult life. Their bodies and minds go through similar pressures and stress over a long career span.
Game shift: One ball can turn a winning situation into a losing one and vice versa. A tennis player may be up 6-0, 5-0 and 40-love and still lose the match with either self-made error or because a brilliant shot from the opponent. Similarly in cricket, a wide or a four can dramatically shift the status of the game.
Performance Anxiety: This element of surprise and sudden shift can lead to a higher anxiety level to perform. The individual puts additional pressure on himself, which often leads to ‘choking’ — Jana Novotna at Wimbledon and South Africa in the 1999 World Cup are cases in point.
Hero or failure: One ball can be a deciding factor on whether the player is a hero or a failure. Even though cricket is a team sport, very often it can narrow down to one person’s performance or lack of.
Technicalities: Underperformance of a player, often targets on the technicality or mechanics of the game instead of considering the player’s emotional state. There is a tendency to find fault with a player’s technique such as, “You’re snapping your wrist too much on your forehand”, “You’re bowling too front on” or, “there is too much gap between bat and pad”. Often the initial need to assess the players’ mental state of mind before dealing with the kinetic details is overlooked.
Psychological disorders in cricket include anxiety, mild to severe depression, bipolar/manic depression, borderline personality disorder, Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and seasonal affective disorders. Fortunately, medical experts agree that all of these conditions are treatable, though early detection is the key. While depression has no apparent visual symptoms, signs such as irritability (one of the most under-recognised symptoms), mood swings, bursts of anger, muscle and joint pain, headaches, fatigue and fibromyalgia are often symptoms and should not be dismissed. Depression is insidious and very often cricketers are just unaware. If appropriate treatment is not received the depressed individuals often turn to counterproductive behaviors such as drinking and substance abuse.
Players who collapsed emotionally in the past few years (Trott, Marcus Trescothick, Lou Vincent), should have all received assistance at the earliest clues. Not unlike corporations and firms, cricketing administrative bodies are employers, hence have substantial duties of care towards their employees. The International Cricket Council (ICC), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Cricket Australia (CA) and various other relevant cricketing organisations must immediately devise plans and implement appropriate procedures to effectively deal with a player’s mental health. Just as there are specific tests to determine the physical fitness of a player before being eligible to compete, specialized tests to determine their mental fitness under the supervision of a psychologist and/or psychiatrist should be mandatory.
We simply cannot allow any more cricketers to succumb to this crippling disease due to ignorance and neglect.
(Peggy Zaman is a former professional tennis player who represented India. Cricket is her first passion and she has in-depth knowledge of the sport. She is also a corporate lawyer and is undertaking an LLM specializing in intellectual property, fashion and sports law. She has a strong interest in legal issues in cricket. Peggy resides in the United States with her husband and three young kids. You can follow Peggy on Twitter @cricketlaws)