After Ben Stokes decided to withdraw from all forms of cricket for an indefinite period to look after his mental wellbeing, onlookers were given another welcome reminder that elite athletes suffer from everyday issues. We were also once again given an insight into the difficulties of living in cricket’s bio-secure environments and the unsustainability of England’s players being away from their families for up to four months, as the World Cup and Ashes approach.
The last eighteen months have been some of the most hectic in English cricket’s long history, and the players have been busier than any of their ever-critical predecessors. The unpredictablility of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation close to impossible for the ECB, who have reacted professionally and humanely to the personal situations of their players.
However, ahead of a two-year period that shows no signs of respite, there must surely be discussions held about reform to a schedule that will end up undermining the very institution of international cricket. Ben Stokes will not be the last to require a break from its intensity, and vital series, such as the Ashes, will not play host to England and Australia’s biggest stars.
As we commend Stokes’s bravery we must also come up with solutions to the excessive pressure being put on our best sportsmen. Everyone deals with situations in their own unique way, but an international schedule that allows for more time away from the spotlight will go far in turning down the heat on many, as global COVID restrictions and the strains of isolation linger.