Indian skipper says it’s important to have a “professional to talk to who can understand what (we are) going through”
Even today, when such things are brought up more candidly, athletes find it difficult to discuss mental health issues. So when Virat Kohli, India’s most adored sportsman does, we realize how ubiquitous it can be – and how much remains to be done.
Kohli recently opened up about his depression during the 2014 England tour when he struggled, achieving just 134 points in ten innings over five tests.
Not the first time
This is not the first time Kohli has spoken about his state of mind on this tour. He mentioned it before the test against Bangladesh about a year and a half ago. A few years earlier, he told a website: “People have fallen into depression and it’s a very dangerous situation. I went through these times… few people realize how much criticism can hit an individual. “
For Kohli, it was a serial thing; during the following tour, in Australia, he made 692 races including four centuries. Others may not have been so lucky.
English cricketers Marcus Trescothick and Graeme Fowler wrote with emotion about the depression that affected their careers and thus highlighted the difference between situational depression, as described by Kohli, and the clinical depression they themselves suffered.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two; clinical requests for drugs and therapies; the danger of a relapse is always present. The situation often changes with changed circumstances.
The case of Pucovski
A few years ago, Australian prodigy Will Pucovski took a six-week hiatus as his career blossomed. Hitting on 64 overnight for Victoria against Western Australia, he told his coach before resuming, “I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t know why this is happening…” He scored 243 in this sleeve. He was only 20 at the time and then made his debut against India.
“Will’s decision to speak out and continue to seek help with his ongoing mental health is overwhelmingly positive,” said Cricket Australia doctor Richard Saw. Pukovski’s support system and his own acceptance had a positive effect on the treatment of a player seen as the future of Australian cricket.
This is the kind of support system Kohli calls for. Family and close friends are essential, but he said it was important to have a “professional to talk to and who could understand what (we) are going through”. Such a person must be part of the team.
This is particularly important to deal with a problem that has never existed before – that of managing tours in biosecurity bubbles.
Praveen Kumar, the medium who played 84 internationals for India in three formats, admitted in an interview that he had been so depressed at one point that he had considered suicide.
“I dreamed of a testing career, but suddenly it was gone,” he said, “nobody understands depression in India…”
For so long, mental issues were seen as a sign of weakness that they seemed irrelevant in a chauvinistic activity like competitive sport. Failure, however brief it may be, is part of sport, but it can sometimes cause even the strongest to buckle up. As Fowler wrote, “Cricket is a game of failure. Bradman has scored 100 goals in every three innings, so two-thirds of his career has been a failure… ”
Impact of failure
Former England captain and sitting psychoanalyst Mike Brearley put it this way: “The failure is flagrant and public. Like a deposed king, the dismissed drummer must leave the arena; the bowler is simply removed… ”
In the same room (in Wisden), Brearley says, “Depression is a terrible thing. People find it hard to describe it to those who are not subject to it: darkness, uselessness, uselessness, a nuclear winter of the soul … depressed people cannot concentrate, cannot think, feel lethargic, guilty and irritable. We do not understand enough what it is, why it has grown to such an extent … “
A growing number of players have revealed to have fallen prey: Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard, Jonathan Trott, Mike Yardy, Iain O’Brien, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Tait, Sarah Taylor.
It doesn’t always have to be a locker room professional who makes the difference. Often those who have been on the brink and coming back are in a better position to help. There must be a way for cricket to formally use these resources. A player must be able to talk to someone who has been there before.
Derbyshire captain Luke Sutton, who has written a book about his descent and recovery, talks about a chance meeting with Glen Chapple of Lancashire at a London Underground station which began the healing process.
Depression may not be fully understood, but the fact that it exists and needs to be treated cannot be ignored. Kohli got it right.
Awareness is the first step towards understanding the urgency of the problem and handling it with empathy and professional expertise.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.thehindu.com