By Charles Randall
28 February 2017
The apparent suicide of a young Pakistani player in February after he was passed over for Karachi Under-19 selection is a reminder of dangers in high-level cricket.
The Professional Cricketers Asssociation in England has made great strides in helping depression and other mental health aspects that seem to afflict cricket more than other sports. They held their annual 'rookie camp' at Edgbaston in February to educate young professional players about possible pitfalls in their future careers.
Mohammad Zaryab, a first-year college student and son of the former Pakistan one-day player Aamer Hanif, had assumed he would regain his place in the Karachi Under-19 squad after being asked to stand down through injury. He was reluctant, but the coach assured him he would be brought back - until the selectors announced he would be too old. A distraught Zaryab was later found hanging.
In 2016 the Devon and Warwickshire fast bowler Tony Allin took his own life at the age of 28 when he fell from the Torridge Bridge in Bideford. The inquest was told that a car accident had affected his fast-bowling adversely and scarred him mentally. He left three suicide notes, though those close to him had no inkling of his intentions. Allin, popular and widely respected, learnt his cricket at Bideford CC before moving to North Devon CC, where he did coaching and joined Shebbear College as head of cricket.
Simon Cusden, the former England Under-19 fast bowler, admitted in 2017 that he had attempted suicide when his married and professional life fell apart through excessive drinking after his cricket aspirations were badly affected by loss of form. He played county cricket for Kent and Derbyshire and for the Kent clubs St Lawrence & Highland Court CC and later for Elvaston CC, in Derbyshire.
"I was drinking two to three bottles of whisky a day for days on end," Cusden said in a frank interview. "And then suicidal thoughts came into my brain." He added that if it were not for the PCA intervention, he would be dead. In his 'new' life he produced an extraordinary innings of 187 off 100 balls for Elvaston, a club record score.
Women can be equally affected by mental stress. In 2014 Pakistan cricket was rocked by the alleged suicide of the Multan woman player Haleema Rafique, 17, who died after drinking acid. The previous year five players, including Haleema, had complained to the Pakistan Board about sexual harrassment. An inquiry interviewed three complainants, who denied there had been harrassment, and the two-woman panel dismissed all the accusations without examining the cases of Haleema and another player. All five complainants were suspended for six month, and Haleema was threatened by lawyers on behalf of one of the Multan officials.
The PCA's rookie day at Edgbaston, supported by the Tom Maynard Trust, was the eighth, this year attended by 30 first and second-year contract players.Several workshops ran throughout the day discussing the potential pitfalls and dilemmas cricketers may face during their careers, covering anti-corruption, legal support, social media training, gambling addictions and contract negotiation.
Michael Carberry, Leicestershire's captain, discussed his rise through the ranks at Surrey, the challenges he faced at a similar age to the rookies and revealed the hard work behind his England caps, winning the Big Bash League in Australia and his off-field battle with cancer in 2016.
The ECB chief executive Tom Harrison delivered a seminar focusing on the ECB’s role and the responsibilities of all individual professional cricketers. He commented: "The ECB have an excellent relationship with the PCA, and they fulfil a fantastic role in player welfare both while playing the game and in terms of post-playing career. I have been a member since 1993 and have always found the PCA to play a vital role in the increasing pressures that are put on today’s players."
The PCA chairman and Worcestershire batsman Daryl Mitchell attended the event as an onlooker. "It’s been really interesting to watch from a PCA perspective and I’m sure the players will leave here having learnt a great deal," he said. "Unfortunately back in my day we didn’t have this."
The shocking death of the young Pakistan player underlined that there could be no room for complacency.