Ben Stokes has become the latest great athlete to step back from sport to focus on his mental health.
The 30-year-old English cricketer is taking an ‘indefinite break’ from both international and domestic matches to ‘prioritise his mental well-being and rest his left index finger, which has not fully healed’.
His announcement comes after fellow global stars Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles withdrew from competitions this year, citing their mental well-being.
Osaka withdrew from the French Open after causing a backlash by refusing to meet her media obligations during the tournament, while Biles withdrew from the US team’s gymnastics final this week after an unusual mistake.
Meanwhile, up-and-coming British tennis star Emma Raducanu also sparked a debate over mental toughness when she pulled out of Wimbledon, with John McEnroe saying ‘it was getting a bit too much’ for the 18-year-old.
England cricket director Ashley Giles praised Stokes for revealing how he felt, saying: ‘Ben has shown tremendous courage to be open about his feelings and well-being.
Ben Stokes will take an indefinite break from his duty in England to prioritize his mental wellbeing
Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open after causing a backlash by refusing to meet her media obligations during the tournament
Simone Biles withdrew from US team gymnastics final this week after an unusual mistake
Director Ashley Giles (R) praised Stokes for showing courage to open up
“Our primary focus has always been and remains the mental health and well-being of all our people. The demands placed on our athletes to prepare and play elite sport are relentless in a typical environment, but the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated this acutely.
Spending significant amounts of time away from family, with minimal freedoms, is a huge challenge. The cumulative effect of working almost continuously in these environments over the past 16 months has had a major impact on the well-being of everyone.
“Ben is getting the time he needs and we look forward to seeing him play cricket for England in the future.”
Stokes, 30, will miss at least the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s in England’s India Test series and has been replaced in the squad by Somerset all-rounder Craig Overton.
The all-rounder from England could now miss the entire test series against Virat Kohli’s India
Stokes has been replaced in England’s Test team by Somerset all-rounder Craig Overton (R)
The 30-year-old broke his finger playing for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League in April, and was consequently ruled out of the Test series defeat to New Zealand and the limited-overs games against Sri Lanka earlier this summer .
Stokes was also set to serve out the ODI series against Pakistan but was recalled to lead a makeshift squad after Eoin Morgan’s men were forced into self-isolation following positive coronavirus tests for three unnamed players and four backroom staff.
To speak earlier this month to The MirrorStokes admitted his finger caused him ‘ridiculous pain’ during the 50-over games against Pakistan, which his side won 3-0.
“It was a totally unexpected series of games for me and the truth is that under normal circumstances I would never have played because of the pain I had in my left index finger,” he said.
Stokes missed the Test series defeat to Joe Root’s men by New Zealand earlier this summer
“The surgery was a success after I broke it at the IPL, but it was still so painful. Sometimes you just have to grin and put up with it, and England captaincy is one of those reasons.
“The finger has healed structurally, but the pain was just ridiculous for where it should be, so I’ve now got an injection to relieve it for the rest of the summer.”
Stokes has also represented Northern Superchargers in the Hundred this summer, competing in their defeats to Welsh Fire and Trent Rockets.
Giles insisted it is “extremely challenging” for their stars to spend time away from family, with Sports post exclusive last month revealing that multi-format players are increasingly anxious about being on the road from mid-September to mid-January without seeing their loved ones.
This is the latest astonishing development in a career filled with emotional ups and downs, from the low point of his arrest for his part in a brawl in Bristol four years ago to the extraordinary highs of playing a defining role in winning the 2019 World Cup and that Ashes Test of the Year at Headingley.
Then Stokes produced another competition-winning performance in Cape Town in early 2020, but that tour was played against the backdrop of his father Ged who fell seriously ill after traveling to South Africa to support his son.
Stokes was granted compassionate leave from England that year to travel to his family home in New Zealand to be with his father while battling brain cancer before dying in December.
Stokes has also competed for Northern Superchargers in the Hundred this month
Stokes also missed the tour of Sri Lanka for Christmas as England fought to protect their players from the mental demands of bio-safe bubbles.
“He is a fantastic cricketer, one of the best in the world,” said Kevin Pietersen during Sky’s coverage of the Hundred on Friday night. “A lot of things have happened to Ben Stokes over the years, he lost his father and I just want him to be okay.”
Now it is clear that Stokes, who has spent several months recovering from a similar serious fracture to his right index finger earlier in his career, feels the need to take more time out and could miss the entire series of five tests due next month in Manchester shuts down.
But Stokes has told those close to him that he hopes to return in time for the Twenty20 World Cup in October and the Ashes to follow in November.
It is clear that at a time when there is more emphasis and understanding of mental health issues in sport than ever before, he will not be hounded by England.
“Ben gets as long as he needs,” Giles added. “And we look forward to seeing him play for England again in the future.”
It’s a hope every cricket fan shares as England now prepare to take on India without their vice-captain and a man who remains the heartbeat of their side.