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The Liberal Canon

Cricket And Mental Health

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Mental health has started being taken seriously and worthy of attention only in the last few decades, especially in India, where there is still a great deal of stigma around it. Nothing but a lack of proper education and guidance is to blame for it. I myself did not know much about it until I entered college, where my professors and fellow batchmates helped in building awareness about it. Though I do not possess expertise in the topic, and I never will because of the sheer vastness of the subject (and also my dislike for the subject of psychology), I can still relate it to the sport of cricket, with which our country is obsessed and has given its great players a god-like status.

I have played cricket since I learnt how to walk, but it only became slightly competitive when I started appearing for trials at the local club level. As I write this article, I am also watching the first of the three T20s between England and Australia live on my television But coming back to the topic, I see one particular Australian player on the screen, named Glenn Maxwell. Last year in October, Maxwell announced a short break from cricket for a few weeks citing mental health reasons. It sounded weird at first, but his decision was widely respected by sportspersons all over the world. His girlfriend, and now wife, noticed some changes in his behavior, and he thus decided that he needed ‘some time off’. A sportsperson does not play a sport forever and has to retire one day. In cricket, this comes at the age of anywhere above 35 (or below it as well), as the body does not support the performance on the field as well as before, and selectors have to make way for fresh blood to carry the game forward. In a super competitive sport like cricket, there’s always someone waiting to grab your spot in the team, no matter how good you are. And still Maxwell decided to take a break. This shows that he took his mental health more seriously than his career as a professional sportsman even if it meant that making a comeback will be difficult. Eventually, Maxwell came back, stronger than ever.

In cricket, one day you are a hero, the next day you are forgotten. The ups and downs in cricket are frequent and not everyone has the ability to handle them. Cricketers are also human, which is something the fans often forget. Let me tell you this, facing a red/white leather ball coming at you at 150/kph is a big threat in itself to the person facing it. It really surprises me to think how good these players must be that they are able to do this on an everyday basis, and still survive for years in the game. When a player scores a century/takes many wickets in a match, or wins a match for his/her team or country, it’s a great feeling. The team wins, fans are happy, the so-called cricket experts applaud you and you are on the front page of all the newspapers the next day. But what happens when a player scores a duck (zero runs) or gets hit for many runs as a bowler? The player is criticized beyond measure. Experts suggest the player should hand his/her boots. And he/she who once was obsessed with across the country, slowly gets dropped from the team. Some have the ability to make a great comeback and prove the naysayers wrong, but others slowly fade into oblivion. And there it is, a sport that they dedicated their lives to, practiced for years, and gave their blood, sweat and what not, is something that gives them their worst nightmares. Not everyone comes from a strong financial background to be able to afford to spend money on their mental health. Some have long passed the age of starting a new career in a different field, and some just cannot accept the dramatic turnaround of events in their lives. Such is the extreme volatile nature of cricket, and of many other sports too. So often do we see former gold-medalists of some sport, selling food on the streets to afford food for their family. Even the best of sportspersons are forgotten for being the national heroes they once were.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast about how a great West-Indian bowler, named Patrick Patterson, who played his last match in 1993, and now lives in a single-story disheveled house somewhere in Jamaica, all by himself. At one point, batsmen feared for their lives when he was bowling. Now, he is completely disconnected from the world, has a mental health issue that made him forget his cricketing days. Had he been able to afford proper treatment and psychiatric help for his mental health, his great talent would not have gone to waste and his life would have been much better. Mental health needs to be addressed everywhere, more so in professional sports due to the impact of things like competitiveness and performance pressure on sportspersons. Idolizing sports persons is good, but treating them as Gods makes fans forget that they too are humans and have issues of their own- that they have a life outside that sport, and everyday issues that affect us can affect them as well. So here is a request to all sports pundits, cricket experts, fans and followers, and especially the editors of the Sports section of any newspaper writing negatively about sports persons- criticism is fine as long as it is constructive. But please know that based on what you write, readers build opinions and this can affect the concerned person in really harmful ways. Try to be more kind and worry less about how sports persons should play their game. They are professionals in their field for a reason. And as fans, we must ensure that we will always stand by our favorite sportspersons, regardless of how they perform.

Meet Bhandari

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“The Liberal Canon” is a student endeavour that hopes to give every individual the opportunity to express themselves. By initiating important conversations , sparking debates and encouraging dissent , the newsletter is playing a crucial role in moulding the leaders of tomorrow.

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