“It’s a crisis” we hear, and that could be right.
“It’s unprecedented” go some calls, and there is truth to that – three Australian cricketers, all of whom are viable candidates for a Test place, have taken a mental health break within a two week period. I can’t recall anything else like it in the history of the game.
Is there a reason they are all Victorian players?
Is there a reason they’re all exciting swashbuckling batsmen?
Is it indicative of a new world of mental ill-health in cricket?
Sure, it’s unusual that so many players are taking time out at the same time due to mental health, but not that cricketers have mental health issues.
Some have said that in the old days it was a simpler time. Less social media. Less pressure. More resilience.
Cricketers, like society as a whole, have always suffered from mental health issues.
Shaun Tait took a break from the game in 2008 to refresh his mind and body, which he did.
Go back further and Michael Slater had a well-publicised meltdown in India in 2001. His mental health issues were a key factor in the break up of his first marriage and him being dropped from the side that year. Slater is very open about this in his memoir.
Go back further and Kim Hughes, the brilliantly talented erratic batsman, seemed to have a breakdown when captaining the tour of the West Indies in 1984. His antics included ordering a bat-slow in a tour game and staring at a TV watching cartoons all day wearing dreadlocks, which made Alan Border think he’d “lost the plot”.
He resigned from the captaincy later that year in tears, exhausted in particular from a brutal campaign against him by Ian Chappell and went on to have a lot of problems in later years, brilliantly documented in Christian Ryan’s book Golden Boy.
Greg Chappell was legendary for his apparent coolness under pressure but now claims his decision to order the underarm against New Zealand in 1980-81 was a “cry for help”. Chappell was proactive about this and after the underarm game began opting out of international tours until the end of his career – and was scandal-free for all of that time.
As the leading batsman in the country, though, he was always welcome back in the side – something not available to lesser players who could’ve used the break too. And at the time he didn’t say the breaks were for mental health – he said they were for business and family reasons. He knew he would be judged otherwise.
Sid Barnes, Jack Iverson and Jim Burke were all Test players of the 1950s, the good old days, when men were men and pubs all shut at 6pm. They all committed suicide in the 1970s. In fact, so many cricketers have committed suicide a book was written about it. The introduction to a new edition was written by Peter Roebuck, who committed suicide.
Mike Gibson, beloved commentator of many sports, including cricket, killed himself.
Don’t forget the players who drank themselves to death like Paul Hibbert and Chuck Fleetwood Smith.
“Mental health” is such a huge banner. It’s an expression used for an enormous range of things, from chemical issues in the brain, to clinical depression, to addiction to drugs/alcohol, to a relationship break up, to financial struggles, to simple exhaustion, to many, many more things.
Just like physical injuries, mental injuries come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Just like physical injuries, mental ones can be treated in a variety of ways – sometimes by taking time out, sometimes with medicine, sometimes with psychologists, sometimes with talking to family and friends, sometimes (but definitely, definitely not all the times) but simply gutting it out.
There is still so much about the human brain we don’t know.
But what we do know is that this is not new in cricket.
What is new is people being more proactive and open about it.
And that should be accompanied by celebration more than hand-wringing.