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A Worrisome Trend
by Gulu Ezekiel
Mar 22, 2008
The news that England batsman Marcus Trescothick has brought down the curtain on his international career due to bouts of depression when away from home is part of a worrisome trend.

The 32-year-old left-hander was a powerful presence while opening the batting and had an excellent record in both his 76 Test matches and 123 ODIs. Now that has come to an end and he will concentrate on his county career with Somerset.

Another England player with a severe case of homesickness is pace bowler Steve Harmison who has flopped on the tour of New Zealand.

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher summed up his malaise tellingly when he wrote in his autobiography that Harmison would get homesick when he so much as stepped out from his front door to pick up his mail! The enormous amount of traveling an international cricketer is forced to endure brings tremendous strains on family life and constantly living out of planes, hotels and suitcases can be a depressing business.

The positive side of this sad tale is that today’s modern cricketers are able to unburden their depression in public without fear of being ostracised as was often the case in the past.

Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait and New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent recently went public with their problems and are no doubt the better for it.

Tait took a short break to recharge his mental and physical batteries and the latest news is that he is already better following he rest.

Vincent admitted to bouts of depression brought on by self-doubt and a lack of self-belief in his playing ability. Perhaps he will find the less stressful environs of the Indian Cricket League a welcome break from the hectic touring that is the lot of today’s professional sportsperson.

Trescothick, Tait and Vincent however can all count themselves lucky that they came out in the open and received professional counseling. Some have not been that fortunate and have taken the ultimate step. Last year the Indian cricket fraternity was sent reeling by a spate of suicides, including by a young woman cricketer and one alleged attempt as well.

Acclaimed Anglo-Australian cricket author and historian David Frith authored two books on the grim subject, By His Own Hand in 1990 and then an update a decade later, Silence of the Heart.

“It is indeed surprising that the rate of suicide or attempted suicide in India seems to have risen alarmingly,” he told me last year. “My earlier findings pointed to this problem seemingly being confined almost exclusively to ‘WASPs’ (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). The few Indians included in the study all seemed to be immersed in doubt. Perhaps a sense of shame in this matter is felt to be more acute on the sub-continent.”

Though not widely reported in the Indian media, the 2007 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack listed former Vidarbha Ranji Trophy player Umakant Phate (40) as having taken his own life in the Hoogly River in 2006. Kanpur cricket circles reacted with shock and anger last year to the suicide of young Subhash Dixit who led the national Under-15 and Under-17 sides but could not break into the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy squad. And Manish Mishra, another UP cricketer met a similar fate two years back.

So what lies behind this tragic trend? Is it the increasing pressure to succeed, much like the stress of school and college examinations that so often tragically end in suicides too?

“I agree that the new and insidious factor is wild ambition, not always on the part of the young cricketer himself but from pushy fathers, who crave success and wealth for their promising offspring, thus creating intolerable pressure,’’ says Frith.

And the wealth and success available in Indian cricket has just skyrocketed with the advent of the 20/20 leagues.

The most alarming aspect is that cricket has more suicides than any other sport and the rate is higher than in all Western suicides, a macabre statistic unearthed by Frith’s research. No wonder the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) set up a helpline for troubled souls. Is it too much to expect the same of the BCCI?

 
More Views by Gulu Ezekiel
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  Book Review: Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2014
  Pankaj: Bengal's Forgotten Cricket Legend
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