England's Ben Stokes to take 'indefinite break' from cricket

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England's Ben Stokes to take 'indefinite break' from cricket - GETTY IMAGES
England's Ben Stokes to take 'indefinite break' from cricket - GETTY IMAGES

England have suffered a major blow in their chances of beating India in their five-Test series after Ben Stokes confirmed he is taking an indefinite period of leave from cricket to “prioritise his mental wellbeing”.

It is understood that a variety of pressures on Stokes, 30, have culminated in this decision which will effectively deprive England of their star all-rounder for all seven Tests this summer, as he missed the first two against New Zealand in June and is unlikely to find an opportunity to return to the Test team before the series against India, which gets under way on Wednesday and ends in mid-September.

The official reason given by the England and Wales Cricket Board also included the damage to his left index finger, which has not fully healed since his return to competitive cricket earlier this month, and his absence comes with the full support of the ECB.

One factor has been the weight of expectation on Stokes ever since he scored his unbeaten 135 to defeat Australia at Headingley two years ago. It is widely considered to have been the best Test innings for England, for his command of defence than attack, yet brought with it the pressure for him to do something similar again.

A second factor has been Stokes’s temperament which drives him to live his life at full stretch. It was typical that he should have broken off his gradual recovery from his left finger injury while playing for Durham to take on the England captaincy for the ODI series against Pakistan when Covid struck the first-choice squad this month; and typical too, of Stokes’s charismatic effect on his teammates, that the second-string team should have won 3-0.

But the most important factor of all behind Stokes’s current mental issues stems from the death of his father Ged in New Zealand late last year. Towards the end of his father’s life, Stokes was playing in the Indian Premier League in Qatar for Rajasthan Royals, at Ged’s behest, and then, owing to Covid regulations, was unable to attend the funeral in Christchurch. Like so many others in a similar situation, he was unable to mourn. Ged was a prime influence on Stokes’s life, as he had been a professional sportsman too.

It could be seen as part of a growing trend governing elite athletes, exacerbated by the restrictions imposed by covid, that Stokes has felt forced to step down. The world champion gymnast Simone Biles has been withdrawing from Olympic events, while tennis’ Naomi Osaka did not play at the French Open or Wimbledon due to mental health issues.

Managing Director of England Men's Cricket, Ashley Giles, said: "Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing.

"Our primary focus has always been and will continue to be the mental health and welfare of all of our people. The demands on our athletes to prepare and play elite sport are relentless in a typical environment, but the ongoing pandemic has acutely compounded this.

"Spending significant amounts of time away from family, with minimal freedoms, is extremely challenging. The cumulative effect of operating almost continuously in these environments over the last 16 months has had a major impact on everyone's wellbeing.

"Ben will be given as long as he needs, and we look forward to seeing him playing cricket for England in the future."

Stokes has been replaced in the England squad against India by Craig Overton of Somerset, but nobody in England could fill the same role of all-rounder, defined as someone who could take five wickets in a Test innings or hit a hundred. Stokes has been replaced, but he is irreplaceable.

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