India captain Virat Kohli was vocal regarding the need for due attention on players’ mental health management, as his team embarked on another challenging tour amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before India travelled across to UK for their three-month-long Test tour on Thursday (June 3), Kohli once again asserted the need to look after players’ mental well-being amid challenging bio-security regulations.
Virat Kohli and company will remain in UK from the start of June to the middle of September for the final of the World Test Championship versus New Zealand and a five-Test series against England. Most of them will then travel directly to UAE for the remainder of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 ahead of the T20 World Cup – a physically and mentally demanding schedule.
While the bio-security bubbles have allowed for cricket’s safe continuation, a major side-effect has been the toll on mental health. Since the pandemic started, multiple cricketers have opened up on how difficult it has been to be confined to their hotel rooms, go through regular testing, shifting from one quarantine phase to another and facing all the strictly implemented SOPs.
Kohli, aware of the same, said it’s crucial to address the issue and make mental conditioning an important part of the teams’ routine at the highest level, similar to how the physical workload is managed in a calendar year.
Drawing lessons from the past, Virat Kohli reasserts need for mental health management of players
“With the current structure and the kind of structure we’re competing inside, to be very honest for a long period of time it’s very difficult for the players to stay motivated and find the right kind of mental space, you know, just confined in one area and just doing the stuff day in and day out and dealing with high-pressure situations,” Virat Kohli told the press before departing for England tour.
“So this will definitely become a norm of the future, where apart from the workloads, I think the mental health side of things will also come into the picture big time, because you don’t have an outlet at all in today’s day and age, where you are literally going to the ground, coming back to the room. You have no space where you can just disconnect from the game, go out for a walk, or go out for a meal or a coffee and say let me just refresh myself, let me just get away from the game a little bit.”
“I think this is a huge factor which should not be neglected because as much hard work as we’ve done to create this team, you don’t want players falling out because of mental pressures and not having the capacity or the space to express themselves,” he added.
Kohli could, of course, draw lessons from his own past, having self-admitted to feeling “depressed” when he seemed to be nicking everything behind on that difficult tour of England in 2014. Kohli managed just 134 runs from his ten innings through the Test series and ended with only one score past fifty through the limited-overs leg.
In a conversation with Mark Nicholas last year, Virat Kohli had confessed to feeling depressed and the “loneliest guy in the world” during those couple of months in England. And though the great batsman bounced back strongly on the following trip to Australia, Kohli took valuable lessons from his headspace at that stage and understood how important mental health is.
“Personally, for me that was a revelation that you could feel that lonely even though you a part of a big group,” Virat Kohli had said at the time. That it could happen to Kohli, a very tough and competitive individual, should open up our eyes with regards to mental health. An inspiring personality, Kohli’s admission shall work as a catalyst for others to also feel comfortable speaking of their inner battle.
The history of the game isn’t short of names that have been lost to mental health problems, those who needed help but didn’t reveal what they went through, fearing they would be judged or lose their places in the side forever amid stiff competition. That it took Virat Kohli six years himself to open up on his fight, says something about the taboo associated with the topic and sporting environment built over the years.
“I won’t say I didn’t have people who I could speak to but not having a professional to speak to who could understand what I am going through completely, I think is a huge factor,” Kohli had said last year, shedding light on lack of professionals designated for mental health in support staffs.
With history providing a deep lesson, Virat Kohli said the team management has created an open channel for the players involved to be completely honest in assessing their mental health and seek breaks when they need them.
“I think there has to always be that channel open, which the management has left it open, for the players to approach them and tell them ‘look I’m not feeling right in the head and I just need a little break and I just want to disconnect from the game’ I think that’s going to be a huge factor and I’m sure Ravi bhai (Ravi Shastri) and the management feel the same.”