Cricket is far more open to dealing with mental health than it ever has been, as is the case within wider society. But sports psychologists, including Phil Jauncey, who has worked in cricket, AFL and tennis, believe three factors could be contributing to cricket’s issues.
“Modern cricket, particularly international cricket, is becoming so time consuming now. There are three forms of the sport [so] even when you are playing at home, you are not at home,” Jauncey said.
“The other thing is all the scrutiny. Years ago you didn’t get all the social media, which gives you 24-7 scrutiny. Then for all the younger players who have probably have been almost full time in the sport, they haven’t got other things to balance their lives. In the older days, you had to have a job to keep going … so what is happening is that cricketers are full-time sport, full-time throttle and full-time scrutiny, so there are pressures and issues they have do deal with.”
Ben Oliver, CA’s new head of team performance, also noted on Thursday that cricket has an “intense scrutiny” and a “relentless schedule”, and it was important the sport had a better understanding of the impact this had on players. He said mental health was a “complex issue” and is “not a sport thing, it’s a society thing”.
CA has made it clear it will take into account any mental health issues when it comes to selection.
Alex Kountouris, CA’s head of medicine and sports science, said the governing body was ready to do whatever was required to help players. But just what can be done remains a vexed question, but more research is under way.
However, this much won’t change – cricket is as much about individual success as it is a team sport. Therefore the pressures and anxieties that come amid trying to win, regain or retain a spot in the side won’t subside.
“Maxwell is trying all these things to get in the Ashes side … but he wasn’t having success in getting selected. He had all the [questions] – what else can I do, what else can I do – but one of the big problems is it causes mental pain,” Jauncey said.
It’s how players handle this that is crucial. Again, there is no blanket coverage. For some, pressure is not a problem. For others, more support and breaks, even during home campaigns and tours, are needed. It’s been noted that since Ashleigh Barty returned to tennis after her mental health issues, she has made sure to have her boyfriend, family and friends by her side, ensuring there is a greater balance to her life on the road.
Having interests outside of the “gilded bubble” that the Longstaff report termed last year could also help players switch off from cricket and retain more of a joy for their full-time profession.
“Going back to Steve Waugh, when he was overseas, he really got into the charities in south-east Asia. It wasn’t just family, he had something else to capture his imagination and that was fulfilling for him,” Jauncey said.
CA sets aside a specific block for families to join players on tour, but they can remain for the entire trip if needed. Life on the grinding Twenty20 domestic circuit can also be lonely, and it’s here players may need to think about having more support.
Jauncey said if players, understandably, opt to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League during their CA-sanctioned time-off period, then they may need to take a break elsewhere.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.