Stokes reveals he almost quit cricket during mental health break

By Sports Desk August 23, 2022

Ben Stokes has revealed he feared he may never play cricket again while taking a break from the sport to prioritise his mental health last year.

Stokes, who was appointed as England's Test captain in April, spent five months away from the sport in 2021 after suffering panic attacks.

The 31-year-old had taken a period of compassionate leave to spend time with his father ahead of his passing in December 2020, having previously struggled after rushing his recovery from a broken figure.

Ahead of the airing of an Amazon Prime documentary detailing Stokes' experiences throughout that time, he recalled how his decision to step away from cricket was the culmination of a long-term battle.

"It wasn't a case where it was a two-week thing or a couple of months thing, the whole thing was a build-up over a long, long period of time, maybe two, three, four years," Stokes told the BBC.

"It was like I had a glass bottle I kept on throwing my emotions and feelings into. While I was doing that, the bottle was filling up to where, eventually, it got too full and just exploded. I reacted in the way I did and felt like, 'I need to get away from here'."

Asked whether he considered calling time on his playing career, Stokes said: "At the time, yeah, that's where I was at. It was a very, very tough time.

"One of the more powerful things that I notice from the film, was when Stuart Broad was on camera and he said the same thing, he actually said he could see me not playing again.

"I had never spoken to Stuart about that through my time away. I spoke to him a lot through that period but just general chit-chat, nothing too serious.

"I had never said the words to him, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to play again', but the fact that he got that feeling was an eye-opener to me that at that time, things were quite bad."

After assuming the captaincy in April, Stokes oversaw four consecutive victories, three against New Zealand and one against India, before England were thrashed within three days by South Africa at Lord's last week.

While Stokes believes his early success as skipper vindicates the decision to take a break, he was left irritated when his struggles became a talking point after his appointment.

"When Joe [Root] stepped down and the opportunity was there for me to take it, I was actually quite annoyed about some of the press around it, because they linked the England captaincy and my mental health break with each other," he added.

"It felt like people were saying I couldn't do the job because I decided to take a break for mental health last year.

"What's that got to do with being England captain? If anything, it shows that you can do anything, even if you have decided to take a break, it's fine. 

"I did an interview where I'd give off this bravado of being a big tough northern lad with tattoos. I am tough, but that doesn't mean that I can't struggle mentally.

"These things, you can't pick and choose when they're going to hit you. It's not like a switch in your brain, going, 'today I'm going to feel good, tomorrow I'm going to feel bad'."

Stokes is also keen to ensure his willingness to talk about his mental health acts as an inspiration for younger generations, adding: "We all know that as England players, we've got more responsibility than just going out and performing on the field.

"Young kids these days will look at us and want to play like us, they'll want to do what we do because that's who they look up to.

"If I was to shy away and not speak about anything that I've gone through, I don't think I would be doing the responsibility that's been set on me. Shying away is something I would never do."

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