So, Michael Yardy is flying home from the Cricket World Cup because he is suffering from depression. Good. Not good that he has such a horrible, debilitating disease. Not good that England are losing a player who, despite not playing well, has been a part of the squad from the beginning of the tournament – changing personnel during a tournament is never an easy thing, even if they are reasonably peripheral players. But good that it was announced, good that Yardy felt able to openly name the reason for his departure, good that he has acknowledged what it is that ails him so that he began to find a way through it (or at least a way to cope with it). And good that his team-mates have both backed the decision and supported him so much as to have the captain, Andrew Strauss, speak out against Geoffrey Boycott’s ridiculous comments.
I like Geoffrey Boycott as a commentator and summariser, both on tv and, especially, as part of BBC’s radio commentary team. He tells it like he sees it, he’s incredibly knowledgeable of the game and of those who play it, he is a vastly experienced international cricketer, and he can be incredibly funny (both deliberately and accidentally). Plus his chemistry with his regular TMS partner “Aggers” (Jonathan Agnew) is one of the great sporting double-teams. But when he steps outside the realm of cricket he can be a complete and utter eejit! I don’t know whether Boycott seriously thought Yardy was leaving because of some typically direct comments about his performance from the legendary Yorkshireman, or whether he was trying to make light of the matter. Either way, he was out of line.
Depression is no joking matter. Well, actually it can be, because humour is often good medicine. But it is only a joking matter if handled sensitively. Because it is also serious. Deadly serious on occasion. As are other mental illnesses. It, they, can affect people no matter their apparent success, social position, or general outward demeanour. I still remember the mess made of handling former international, and Somerset, star player Marcus Trescothick’s battles with depression on more than one tour. If you want to read an insightful telling of what it can be like to deal with the horror of depression you can do a lot worse than read Trescothick’s autobiography ‘Coming Back to Me‘. Of course, everyone’s battle with depression and other similar mental illnesses is as unique as we all are. But whatever Michael Yardy’s own experience, there’s a very slim to no chance that Boycott’s criticisms of his performance had anything to do with it at all. Boycott might like to think he’s influential, but he’s not that influential. Mind you, what he says can influence people and so he’d do better if he helped try to break down the stigma of mental illness, rather than belittling someone who is clearly suffering by suggesting it’s simply a case of being unable to handle criticism. Marcus Trescothick is still possibly the greatest opening batsmen playing in England – it wasn’t criticism that forced him to retire from England, it was a serious illness that he has to cope with every day of his life.
My own black dog, as I call it, has only ever shown up once in anything bigger than poodle-size, but when it did it was an experience I would not wish on anyone. And people cope with these things in different ways: some want to talk; some can’t imagine anything worse than talking about it; some use drugs (hopefully prescribed but sadly not always); some avoid drugs; some use their faith; some use the love of family and friends; many use a combination of some or all of those things. However anyone copes with it, the last thing we need is someone like Boycott making crass, ignorant, unthinking comments like those he came out with.
I don’t know the best way for Michael to move on from here, but standing up and recognising what the problem is makes for a good starting point. That he had to do it in a world where people will still make light of his illness, and suggest it’s only an excuse is a sad state of affairs. I’m glad Michael Yardy has announced why he’s coming home. I’m glad Andrew Strauss came out in such strong defence of him. Because while there are still people around like Boycott who continue to stigamtise and belittle sufferers of mental illness, the more we need people to stand up and say “I’m ill” and the more we need others to stand up and say “We support you, we’re here for you.”