India vs Bangladesh: When mind dragged down Virat Kohli
There was a point in Virat Kohli’s career when he said had felt terribly low. Kohli was referring to his disastrous tour of England in 2014 when he returned scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6 and 20 in five Tests, averaging 13.40 in 10 innings.
“I have gone through a phase in my career where I had felt that it was the end of the world. I just didn’t know what to do and what to say to anyone, how to speak, how to communicate. To be honest, I couldn’t have said that I am not feeling great mentally and I need to get away from the game. Because you never know how that’s taken,” said Kohli at Indore on Wednesday.
Kohli was replying to how he felt about Australia all-rounder Glenn Maxwell taking a break from cricket to deal with mental health issues. Maxwell, 31, pulled out towards the end of October. His announcement was accompanied by a statement from Cricket Australia’s sports psychologist Dr Michael Lloyd. Nic Maddinson, Victoria’s 27-year-old opening batsman, followed Maxwell citing similar reasons. Last February, 21-year-old Will Pucovski, another Victoria batsman, was left out of the Australia Test squad for Sri Lanka due to mental health concerns.
Need to speak out
“To be very honest, you guys have a job to do. We guys have a job to do and everyone is focused on what we need to do. It is very difficult to figure out what’s going on in another person’s mind. So, when you get to the international stage, every player that’s in the squad needs that communication – that ability to speak out. I think what Glenn has done is remarkable. He set the right example for cricketers all over the world,” said Kohli. “If you are not in best frame of mind, you try, try and try, but as human beings you reach a tipping point at some stage or the other and you need time.”
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On Maxwell, Cricket Australia’s national teams’ manager Ben Oliver had said: “He’s (Maxwell) a special player and an important part of the Australian cricket family. We hope to see him back in the team during the summer. The well-being of our players and staff is paramount.”
This, Kohli said, was crucial. “These things should be of great importance. If you think that a player is important for the team and for Indian cricket to move forward, then they should be looked after.”
Cricket has had a number of players quitting for psychological reasons, prominent among them being skipper Marcus Trescothick who lost his career with England to a weakening mental illness which saw him go down sobbing on the Heathrow floor on his way back from Australia. Former India spinner Maninder Singh opened up about his psychological issues to The Cricket Monthly saying: “I had nowhere to go, so I went to the bottle.”
Unheard of in India
But Indian players announcing that he or she wants to take a break to sort out mental issues is still unheard of.
“There are varied reasons why people in India do not come out and talk about it,” said Sumiran Tandon, a Delhi-based sports and performance psychologist. “It could be because when they were younger, it was a taboo to talk of seeking psychiatric help (something that Singh said was the biggest deterrent in his case). Reasons could depend on the culture and background of the athlete; it could be lack of information and awareness; it could depend on how this mental aspect is talked about in a particular sport. It could also be that they have seen it in their peers and seniors and the examples have not been very heartening.”
Sports medicine expert Dr PSM Chandran said: “Ironically, psychology plays a big part in sport and even then the trigger which tells an athlete to go and seek psychological help does not come very easily. In sport, unlike in most other profession, the ups and downs are drastic. One moment you are on top, the next you are upset by a rank outsider and you don’t know what to do.”
Need more awareness
Another reason that makes Indian athletes cagey about taking a break is what psychologists call “back to sport.” “There is a phase we have which we call ‘back to sport’ phase where we say that a particular athlete is treated and is ready to get back to sport,” said Tandon. “Sometimes athletes do not do well immediately in this back-to-sport phase and so they are scared. But for Indian athletes to come out and say I am taking a break not because of an injury but to sort out mental issues, we need more awareness in the media and society as a whole. For an athlete to have that confidence in sport psychology, a lot of backing has to be there: from the coach, parents and the peers.”
She agreed with Kohli, who said: “I think these things should be respected. This is happening at a human level and can happen to any person in any walk of life. I think it should be taken in a very positive way.”