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A beautiful Mind

Cricket’s most famous psycho analyst, Mike Brearley, talks about issues pertaining to life after cricket and, how failure and frustration lead to suicides, in this exclusive interview with Rohit Mahajan.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2007 05:33 IST

"No one in life is completely free from vulnerability to depression, anxiety, loneliness,” Mike Brearley, former captain, current pundit, psychoanalyst and the game's all-time top shrink, declares sagely, a faint smile flickering over his features.

We’ve just got to the top tier of the stand at Trent Bridge, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are in the middle and Brearley, declaring that he would not like to miss this for anything, has hastened up the stairs, taking three steps at a time, right to the top of the highest stand at the stadium.

From up there, the view is bird-like, and we look down at the middle as these modern gladiators, preyed by doubt, anxiety, fear and cynicism, fight on the pitch for supremacy and off it for normalcy.

Fear and anxiety are something that Brearley thrives on — no, he is not really a masochist, but when it comes to demystifying the demons that haunt cricketers, nibble on their minds and drive them towards the slippery slope to self-destruction, Brearley is the man to go to.

Brearley does not really seem to enjoy this — as he speaks in a soft, educated tone, he seems troubled by the thoughts threading through his mind, clothed by his words.

Candid

He is a bit hard to get but once you've got him, he can disarm you with his affability. He states his opinions by always tagging “I think” or “perhaps” or “probably” before them — clearly, the game's acknowledged top thinker does not wish to thrust his beliefs on you.

He asks you questions with beguiling simplicity and hears you out — as we warm up to our discussion, Brearley exceeds the time he had demarcated for the chat.

Down below us, as the two Indian superstars get down for a fascinating battle against James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom, Brearley talks of the millions of men, equals as men but not made of the same material as cricketers, who will never make it to Trent Bridge — or even the Chepauk or the Wankhede.

Manish Mishra was a young man whose love of the game consumed him — he made it to India's under-19 team but never reached the Ranji Trophy level. Seemingly rejected by the game he loved, he ended his life last year. That sad tale was reflected in the life and death of Subhash Dixit from Kanpur.

What could have been done to save these two young souls? I put the question to Brearley, for Brearley has been writing on the subject of declaring the innings on their lives, when future seemed to hold more for them.

Cricket, famously, is often described as the game of death — you live in an innings, you die when you are out, you are given another chance, you are reincarnated.

You have your family, your team around you, but you face each difficulty, each problematic delivery, on your own.

In his book Silence of the Heart, David Frith has enumerated as many as 160 suicides by cricketers — up considerably from the last edition, and while the subject is morbid, it’s imperative to understand why sportsmen choose to go out that way.

Cricket can teach

Brearley says that he used to believe that cricket, with its dark metaphors about life and death, would teach players to deal with other defeats of life. Now, he says, he has altered his view, and does not have such a kindly view of the game.

But what could be done to reduce the anguish and the torments that drive cricketers over the edge?

Brearley says, in the context of the scene in India, ‘little’ can be a little depressing. “I'm sure there is a limit to what the cricket boards can do,” Brearley says. “There are a lot of players and no one asks a player to come and play first class cricket.

“It must be a very hard way — the alternatives are fame and wealth on one hand if you make it, poverty and no fame if you don't,” Brearley adds.

Perhaps, the difference between India and England, which he specialises on, is very large. In India, if you don't make it as a cricketer, and with not much education, you don't get a second chance.

Brearley says that the difficulties are not only if the players do not have a means of livelihood —it's also the dramatic contrast between the lure of top cricket and the situation they find themselves in.

“I think that’s a phenomenon that applies to even the people who don't have the same degree of poverty,” he says, referring to the state of the players who don't really make it here in England.

“There are a lot of people who've played cricket at a reasonable level — and then after that, anything else they do is anticlimax.”

In the middle, there is a sudden climax — Tendulkar has taken his eyes off the ball and is struck on his helmet grille. “That doesn't happen too often, does it!” Brearley says.

Life after life

Dealing with the buffets in life after cricket can be equally tough, says Brearley.

“It's inevitably tough because you're doing something you're going to be best in, let's say, between the ages of 25 and 35,” he says, pausing at every delivery, his binoculars out and trained on the two men he says he loves to watch.

“Most other people retire at 65, so there's a great deal of life to continue with and your most productive period is over,” Brearley resumes.

“For most cricketers, the most interesting part of their lives, something they've done really well at, is that period, that 10-year period,” he says.

“It's not just that they are famous or productive, it's also that they've done something they love really well at a high level.”

And, says Brearley, after doing something that has been very rewarding and gratifying, the contrast of life after cricket is very difficult.

Brearley, though he declares he doesn't really know what the solution is, says that integration is the answer.

“I think a lot of cricketers are best off if they continue to do something in cricket, whether it's umpiring or coaching or commentating, as opposed to doing something in an area where they have no particular skill,” the former captain says.

“When they are using their cricketing skills, they are still in contact with the other players, they are part of the game, they are contributing.”

Why the suicides?

Mishra and Dixit, the two Indian players, never made it and died young. They never had the chance to taste the riches of the game they never had to deal with the problem of life after cricket.

Things, then, are perhaps different, more difficult in India? The extent of the fame and the riches is different, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is disproportionately large.

"I think it's the same in principle, I think it may be slightly more in degree, on both factors," Brearley says. "The poverty might be greater if you don't make it, the contrast could be greater in India."

"Cricket puts you in the limelight," Brearley concludes. "But in all walks of life, people are vulnerable. No one is exempt."

Down in the stands, a wicket has fallen, an innings has ended, a batsman moves from life in the middle to wait in the wings, for reincarnation.

It's time to part with the shrink, to descend to the ground level. It's time to shrug off unpleasant thought, to watch the game for the pleasure of watching it.