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Cricket Debate: ECB Approach To Mental Health

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Writing about mental health is a fine balancing act: say anything negative and you run the highly probable risk of being criticised and accused of not knowing anything about it.

So for the record: I have lost friends through suicide, have friends who have lost parents through suicide, have friends who have had to retire early through depression, have friends with PTSD, and am Vice Chair of a Pupil Referral Unit which does amazing work with children suffering from a wide range of issues, many of which are mental health related.

None of which makes me an expert, but it does mean that I am aware of many of the implications and issues, and do not write lightly on the subject.

In recent weeks I have become increasingly disillusioned at the approach the ECB has taken towards the mental health of the players. I am 100% behind the need to take their mental health into consideration, but I do not believe a “one size fits all” approach i.e. rotation, is the right way, and I think once again they have failed to manage this in a consistent (and I am going to say ‘honest’) way.

A lot is being made of players being available for the IPL and the fact that they are being allowed to ‘follow the cash’, yet are being rested for England games, which they are under contract to play. This is a fair point, to some extent, but only relevant if the players themselves are asking to be rested. I can see how it would be perceived by many (myself included) if Butler, Bairstow, Stokes et al were saying to the ECB “we don’t want to spend so much time in a bubble, can you release us from XYZ, but we are still going to play in the IPL”. But on the other hand if the ECB are saying “we want to rest and rotate you so you are fit for when we want you available” then that is totally different – they are contracted to the ECB and within reason they are an asset to be managed as the ECB sees fit.

Let’s be honest though please ECB you are NOT going to stop players going to the IPL under any circumstances because just imagine if other countries started doing that regards The Hundred …..

There seems little doubt that the rotation policy is a Giles et al decision, and it has some merit when you look at the number of games in the Schedule over the next 8 years but …… 1) Why add The Hundred to the schedule, 2) why blame the counties for not producing enough new players to allow for larger squads, and 3) why promote every game and series as a “must win”, come and see the “meg stars battle it out” when clearly the public are going to feel short changed. Be honest, treat us like adults.

I confess that I struggle a little with how a young fit professional cricketer, being paid well, to do a job they love, which has a short career span and runs the ongoing risk of being replaced by someone in better form, would ever not want to play but I do see that time away from family, life in a bubble, not being selected for series after series but “carrying the drinks” can wear you down. I need to stress that saying I do not fully understand is NOT the same as criticising.

But I do have a criticism! Let’s take the well documented ‘rest and rotation’ of Bairstow this winter: two test in Sri Lanka, flight home to UK, self isolation in all but name as a) he wanted to be fit to fly back to India, b) he didn’t want to infect his family, and c) the country was in Lockdown. After a few weeks of that he got to fly back to India, ensure several COVID-19 tests, a period of quarantine and then FULLY REFRESHED was expected to “be in form” against one of the best sides in the world. He failed (arguably understandably) so do you reckon he “felt great”, that his mental health was any better for the rotation?

I was always told that it is easy to criticise, but you should only do so if you have a (better) solution so how about this: we have known since the end of 2020 that a vaccine was going to make 2021 a MUCH better year, probably around the summer. Combine this probability with the potentially better weather in the UK, opening up of flights abroad, no England games and you surely have a better time to give the England Players a “good rest”. Yes they would have had a tough winter, but they would have been playing constantly, hopefully in form, and with a scheduled break ahead of them to look forward too, before resuming England red and white ball duties.

Of course they would have had to miss The Hundred but you know how it goes “last in, first out”, but they would be refreshed and relaxed and I honestly can’t see any of them feeling too concerned about missing some cricket for a franchise they have never even represented before.

It seems to me that the ECB are not being honest with us, or fair. There is a perfectly acceptable way to ensure the England Cricket players and fans alike get to play and see high quality players, playing at the top of their game, but rather than focus on that they have once again prioritised The Hundred and nobody it seems in the mainstream media or involved in the game is saying this: why would that be I wonder.

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