England star Stokes taking indefinite break over 'mental well-being'
LONDON, JULY 31: England's Ben Stokes is to take an indefinite break from all forms of cricket to "prioritise his mental well-being", with the all-rounder the latest high-profile sports star to step away from the pressures of competition.
Stokes has withdrawn from England's Test squad ahead of a five-match series against India starting at Trent Bridge next week, with his place taken by Craig Overton.
"The England and Wales Cricket Board can confirm that Ben Stokes will take an indefinite break from all cricket with immediate effect," said a statement from the governing body.
"Stokes has withdrawn from England's Test squad ahead of the Test series against India starting next week to prioritise his mental wellbeing and to rest his left index finger, which has not fully healed since his return to competitive cricket earlier this month."
The 30-year-old Stokes rushed back to lead England in a one-day international series at home to Pakistan after all those originally selected were ruled out by a coronavirus outbreak within the hosts' camp.
- 'Tremendous courage' -
Stokes's decision comes just days after American superstar gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of two events at the Tokyo Olympics to also protect her mental health.
The 24-year-old's struggles followed those of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, another face of the Games who lost in the third round on her return from a mental health break.
Osaka withdrew from the French Open after refusing to take part in press conferences, claiming they are akin to "kicking people when they are down".
She also skipped Wimbledon before returning in Tokyo where she lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony.
Stokes' withdrawal, as has previously been the case in the vice-captain's absence from the Test team, will leave England with a major headache over how to best balance their side without his dynamic batting and lively pace bowling as Joe Root's men look to avenge a series loss in India earlier this year.
Nevertheless, the ECB insisted they fully supported Stokes' decision, with their managing director of men's cricket, Ashley Giles, saying: "Ben has shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing.
"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."
The former England left-arm spinner added: "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's break was announced just hours after the ECB said player welfare was "paramount" ahead of the upcoming Ashes tour of Australia.
There are concerns some England players may not make the trip unless there is a relaxation of the coronavirus restrictions currently in force in Australia.
In particular, all-format players such as Stokes could be separated from their families for up to four months due to the five-Test Ashes series starting just weeks after the November finish of the Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. -AFP