Way back in 2006, when Marcus Trescothick pulled out of England's tour to India, there was some mystery about the real reason. It later came to light that the English opener was suffering from mental ailments that made him uncomfortable while touring.
Since that time, many cricketers in England, both in the county circuit and international arena, have come out and revealed their struggles with mental health issues. The most prominent case was of Jonathan Trott who was forced to leave the Ashes tour of 2013/14 after the first Test in Brisbane due to 'stress-related illness.'
But it's not just England and not just the present-era where cricketers have been tormented by their inner demons. Even Bob Willis suffered from depression in his time as an international cricketer. Outside England, cases of mental health-related issues have been seen in countries like Australia and New Zealand. Michael Slater had Bipolar disorder and even had to be admitted to the hospital once during a tour of West Indies as a commentator.
Now, Alex Hales, the English opener, has taken an indefinite break from cricket, with just over a month remaining for the World Cup. He has cited 'personal reasons' for this decision. Now, we cannot know what those reasons are but it is a major decision for a cricketer to miss the World Cup, that too, a cricketer who is only playing shorter formats in international cricket.
Why English cricketers?
Could this be another case of mental health issues in the England team? And if yes, what is it about the English cricket culture that makes players so vulnerable to them? The list of Three Lions cricketers to fall prey to problems of the mind is very long. Bob Willis, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Jonathan Trott, etc. are just some of the names.
Could it be the punishing schedule of county games where a player has to be constantly on the road playing both first-class and list-A matches for his team? Could it be that the atmosphere in the dressing rooms of English sides is not so agreeable that players will enjoy themselves?
It's hard to pick a reason. Besides, it has to be remembered that there hasn't been any official announcement from Hales about the reasons for his absence. But it is important for the cricket fraternity to realise that cricketers, and sportspersons in general, cannot be made to work like machines. Perhaps, the English Cricket Board has to lead the way in assessing the conditions of their players. Otherwise, more and more of them may lose their careers.