Our sports stars are like ‘caged animals’, says Steve Harmison as former England fast bowler praises Ben Stokes for stepping away from cricket to protect his mental health
- Former England bowler wrestled with his own issues during a 63-Test career
- Steve Harmison said England star Ben Stokes had reached his ‘snapping point’
- He suggested death of his father, Ged, had prompted decision to take a break
Former England fast bowler Steve Harmison has praised Ben Stokes for stepping away from cricket to protect his mental health and believes sports stars now resemble ‘caged animals’.
Harmison, who wrestled with his own issues during a 63-Test career that saw him rise to the top of the world rankings, said he had never been prouder of Stokes and suggested the death of his father, Ged, in December had played a big part in his decision to take an indefinite break.
With Joe Root’s Test team concerned by the arrangements for this winter’s Ashes tour and Stuart Broad telling The Mail on Sunday that England ‘wouldn’t win’ if their families were not allowed to join them, Harmison said Stokes had reached his ‘snapping point’.
Stokes will take an indefinite break from England duty to prioritise his mental wellbeing
‘Watching cricket now is like going to the zoo,’ he said.
‘Our sports stars are like caged animals. They’re let out to be fed and to entertain. And that’s not healthy. I can understand why West Indies and Pakistan came here last summer. But the longer bubble life has gone on, the harder it’s become.
‘I thought I could never be prouder of Ben Stokes, but he’s gone above that now. I think the poor kid is still grieving for his father. Knowing Ged as I did, he was such a rock for Ben. Don’t underestimate what his loss has done.
‘Everyone has their snapping point and Ben’s found his. I hope and pray he’ll be all right. But whether he comes back on the pitch is of secondary importance right now. If he never plays cricket again, he’s had a wonderful career.’
Steve Harmison (second from left), presenting Stokes with his 50th Test cap in 2019, has backed the England star
Stokes received the backing of the England dressing room on Saturday, when spinner Jack Leach spoke on his team-mates’ behalf. ‘All the lads are behind Ben and supporting him where we can,’ he said.
‘He has shown courage and bravery to prioritise his mental health. He is a focal part of our team and we will miss him.
‘His priority is to take some time out from the game to get better. We can’t wait to welcome him back in the near future and winning games of cricket for England.’ Harmison also believes the ECB should have no hesitation in postponing the Ashes if their families are not allowed in to Australia because of Covid regulations.
‘I can’t understand why people say you can’t call it off,’ he said. ‘The world has changed. When I had my second daughter, on December 4, 2002, I couldn’t see her before February 26 because we were on tour in Australia. Now you take families with you when you travel.
‘The biggest sporting event in the world is the Olympics. If that can be put back 12 months, why not the Ashes? You’ve got to be flexible in the Covid world.
‘It’ll be a waste of time if England send a half-baked team to Australia. Test cricket is already hanging by a thread. Would that finish it off? Let’s not compromise.’
Stokes received the backing of the England dressing room on Saturday, when spinner Jack Leach (above)