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Ben Stokes becomes latest athlete to step back from sport to focus on his mental wellbeing

Ben Stokes has become the latest major athlete to take a step back from sport to focus on his mental health.

The England cricketer, 30, will take an ‘indefinite break’ from both international and domestic matches to ‘prioritise his mental wellbeing and to rest his left index finger, which has not fully healed’.

His announcement comes after fellow global stars Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles withdrew from competitions this year, citing their mental wellness.

Osaka dropped out of the French Open after sparking a backlash by refusing to honour her media commitments at the tournament, while Biles this week withdrew from the US team gymnastics final following an uncharacteristic error.

Meanwhile rising British tennis star Emma Raducanu also sparked a debate about mental toughness when she pulled out of Wimbledon, with John McEnroe saying ‘it got a bit too much’ for the 18-year-old. 

England cricket managing director Ashley Giles praised Stokes for revealing how he was feeling, stating: ‘Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing.

Stokes could now miss the whole of the India series

Ben Stokes will take an indefinite break from England duty to prioritise his mental wellbeing

Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open after sparking a backlash by refusing to honour her media commitments at the tournament

Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open after sparking a backlash by refusing to honour her media commitments at the tournament

Simone Biles this week withdrew from the US team gymnastics final following an uncharacteristic error

Simone Biles this week withdrew from the US team gymnastics final following an uncharacteristic error

Managing director Ashley Giles (R) praised Stokes for showing courage to open up

Managing director Ashley Giles (R) praised Stokes for showing courage to open up

‘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, 30, will miss at least the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s in England’s India Test series and has been replaced in the squad by Somerset all-rounder Craig Overton.

The England all-rounder could now miss the entirety of the Test series against Virat Kohli's India

The England all-rounder could now miss the entirety of the Test series against Virat Kohli’s India

Stokes has been replaced in England's Test squad by Somerset all-rounder Craig Overton (R)

Stokes has been replaced in England’s Test squad by Somerset all-rounder Craig Overton (R)

The 30-year-old broke his finger playing for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League in April, and was consequently ruled out of the Test series defeat by New Zealand and the limited-overs games against Sri Lanka earlier this summer. 

Stokes was also set to sit out the ODI series against Pakistan but was recalled to lead a makeshift squad after Eoin Morgan’s men were forced into self-isolation following positive coronavirus tests for three unnamed players and four backroom staff.

Speaking earlier this month to The Mirror, Stokes admitted his finger caused him ‘ridiculous pain’ during the 50-over matches against Pakistan, which his side won 3-0.

‘It was a totally unexpected set of games for me and the truth is I would never have played under normal circumstances due to how much pain I was in with my left index finger,’ he said.

Stokes missed the Test series defeat for Joe Root's men by New Zealand earlier this summer

Stokes missed the Test series defeat for Joe Root’s men by New Zealand earlier this summer

‘The surgery was a success after I had broken it at the IPL, but it was still so painful. Sometimes though you just have to grin and bear it, and captaining England is one of those reasons.

‘The finger has healed structurally, but the pain was just ridiculous for where it should be so that is why I have now had an injection to ease it for the rest of the summer.’

Stokes has also represented Northern Superchargers in the Hundred this summer, competing in their defeats by Welsh Fire and Trent Rockets. 

Giles insisted it is ‘extremely challenging’ for their stars to spend time away from family, with Sportsmail exclusively revealing last month that multi-format players are increasingly anxious about being on the road from mid-September to mid-January without seeing their loved ones.

This is the latest stunning development in a career full of emotional ups and downs, from the depths of being arrested for his part in a brawl in Bristol four years ago to the extraordinary highs of playing a defining role in winning the 2019 World Cup and that year’s Ashes Test at Headingley. 

Then Stokes produced another match-winning performance early in 2020 in Cape Town but that tour was played out against the backdrop of his father Ged falling seriously ill after travelling to South Africa to support his son.

Stokes was given compassionate leave by England that year to travel to his family home in New Zealand to be with his father while he battled brain cancer before he passed away in December.

Stokes has also been competing for Northern Superchargers in the Hundred this month

Stokes also missed the tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas as England battled to protect their players from the mental demands of bio-secure bubbles.

‘He is a fabulous cricketer, one of the best in the world,’ said Kevin Pietersen during Sky’s coverage of the Hundred on Friday night. ‘There are a lot of things that have happened to Ben Stokes in the last couple of years, he lost his dad, and I just want him to be okay.’

Now clearly Stokes, who spent several months recovering from a similarly bad break to his right index finger earlier in his career, feels the need to take further time out and could miss the whole of a five-Test series that concludes in Manchester next month.

But Stokes has told those close to him that he hopes to return in time for October’s Twenty20 World Cup and the Ashes that are due to follow in November.

Clearly, at a time when there is more emphasis and understanding of mental health issues in sport than ever before, he will not be rushed by England.

‘Ben will be given as long as he needs,’ added Giles. ‘And we look forward to seeing him play for England again in the future.’

It is a hope shared by every cricket fan as England now prepare to take on India without their vice-captain and a man who remains the heartbeat of their side.   

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk