In September 2017, English cricketer Ben Stokes and his teammate Alex Hales were involved in a fight outside a nightclub and was subsequently arrested, tried and acquitted. He was also fined by the ECB and served a match ban. And on the cricket pitch, he really hasn’t been the same since — both internationally and domestically. He averaged in the mid-40s in the seasons before his arrest, but hasn’t gotten back there since. And while never one to put up huger numbers with the bat, he also hasn’t a century since 2017. He’s an all-rounder and his bowling has suffered too.
Hales, for his part, was not charged for his involvement in the fight. But the incident still haunted him. And he turned to recreational drugs. And today the ECB banned him for 21 matches — which of course will include the 2019 World Cup. The connection between his involvement in the incident and his drug use is, of course, conjecture — though conjecture supported by several esteemed cricket journalists — but one that cannot be overlooked. Both Hales and Stokes’ heads are still firmly stuck in September 2017 in Bristol, and they are both still wrestling with demons that came to life that night.
I think this makes them very human. Very much like everyone else in this world, and very much unlike athletes in other sports. And I think this is true for not just Hales and Stokes, but all cricketers. Which I think is why I — and others — like the game. The players aren’t supermen. They don’t look like super models. They look human. Their sweaters don’t fit right. They have paunches. Their smiles can be shy and awkward.
They look like us.
And they suffer like us too. Battling anxiety and depression like athletes in no other sport. Just like everyone does. Sadly, also like us, some of them lose those battles. Per the Guardian, “English cricketers are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the average male and have a suicide rate higher than players of any other sport, according to an international study.”
While this is surely cricket’s dark, sad side, it also makes it more human. More accessible. Somehow realer. These are people out there playing this game, not nameless, faceless athletes. We care about them, we cheer them on, we don’t heckle or haze. We support, and applaud, and want more than anything for them to bat all day.
Here’s hoping Alex and Ben come back soon, and stronger, and okay.