West Indies legendary batsman Brian Lara revealed that he experienced a ‘feeling of despair’ even at the peak of his career, asserting that mental health issues are real in international cricket and the intensity of the game can sometimes be a burden.

Lara holds the record for the highest individual scores in both first-class (501* in 1994) and Test cricket. He is the only cricketer to have claimed the Test record score twice (375 in 1994 and 400* in 2004).

“…from the beginning of my international career in 1989 to about 1995, it was on an upward spiral. I don’t think a lot of people will appreciate (but) from 1995-98, it was on a downward spiral. I felt the pressures of being a double world record holder, (it) played its part and the West Indies team was on its decline,” Lara was quoted by PTI in an exclusive interaction.

“I remember on occasions where I lay in my room feeling the despair. It (mental health issue) is real, it is part of all sport and it is coming to the fore now with a lot more aggression. Players are at-least standing up and saying ‘I need to just remove myself, fight myself and come back again’,” said Lara.

Recently, some Australian cricketers, including star all-rounder Glenn Maxwell took an indefinite break from international cricket to battle mental health issues. His Victoria teammates Will Pucovski and Nic Maddinson, who also had recently taken breaks to deal with mental health issues only returned to play in the Sheffield Shield earlier this week.

India captain Virat Kohli had also spoke about the time in 2014 when, during the tour of England, he was going through problems of his own. The 50-year-old Lara said every player’s cry for help in a taxing schedule should be paid attention to.

“…the kind of pressures the players are in now, maybe before in the 70s and 80s, you played for the love of the game, you played for your country, you loved Test cricket.

“…with all franchise cricket going on around in the world, the intensity of the game, sometimes is a burden. Guys are playing for England and not playing county cricket, guys are playing for Australia and not playing Sheffield cricket (and) that just tells you how mentally draining it is. Something that we should stand up and pay attention to,” added Lara.

Lara also spoke about the West Indies cricket team currently on a tour to India to play three T20 Internationals and an equal number of ODIs. He backed new skipper Kieron Pollard, saying it was a good decision to hand him the leadership role.

“Over a period of time, his representation for West Indies may not be a lot but he has played all around the World in different leagues. He has gained a lot of respect from the opposition. I didn’t see it as a bad decision (to appoint him as a captain),” Lara added

“He (Pollard) has easily gained the respect of his team-mates and he can move forward. There is a (T20) World Cup in under 12 months and you are looking for the right person, someone who can keep the ground running. He has that experience to do so. It is a good decision, but it is still going to be an uphill battle,” he signed off.