Ben Stokes' indefinite break from cricket to focus on his mental well-being took the world by surprise. However, in the recent past, we have seen elite athletes like American gymnast Simone Biles pull out of the ongoing Olympics for the same reason and also, tennis star Naomi Osaka too crashed out in the third round following her return to the sport after a break, which she took to protect her mental health.
Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara sympathises with Stokes saying that it must be difficult for him to be locked away in bubbles with the pressure to perform at the highest level.
"It must be a very, very tough time for Ben and his family. It won't be a decision made easily but (it) brings into focus the level elite players play at -- your coping mechanism can only deal with so much," Sangakkara said.
"A lot of time away from home, in bubbles, restrictions in terms of freedom of movement, then the added pressures of performing at such a high level in the public eye."
"We've had a host of elite athletes who've spoken about mental wellbeing and the effects of Covid and the pressure around it, and of course pressure in the limelight, that have led to them making some very tough decisions," he added.
A key figure for England, Stokes has scored 4,631 runs in 71 Tests at an average of 37.04, which included 10 hundreds. He has been a valuable asset with the ball as well, having picked up 163 wickets at 31.38.
As as well as playing under the shadow of Covid-19, the past year has also seen Stokes coping with the death of his father Ged, a former New Zealand rugby league international, from brain cancer. "I hope he's OK -- he's a fabulous cricketer, one of the best in the world at the moment," said former England batsman Kevin Pietersen.
"He obviously lost his dad, there are a lot of things that have happened to Ben Stokes in the last couple of years."
Stokes' break was announced just hours after the ECB said player welfare was "paramount" ahead of the upcoming Ashes tour of Australia amid concerns some of their side may not make the trip unless coronavirus restrictions currently in force in Australia are relaxed.
In particular, all-format players such as Stokes, a husband and the father of young children, 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.
(With inputs from AFP)