The amount of cricket being played by our top stars is unprecedented in the history of our game.
Consider the reality of life at the top. Over a typical summer, an England player will play seven Test matches (up to 35 days of intense cricket), up to 15 one-day internationals and Twenty20s and several matches for his county.
Each of those days at international level requires a level of concentration and intensity akin, I would argue, to a surgeon performing an operation.
In the future, players will not have 10 to 12-year careers, it is going to be more like six to seven years
Darren Gough, former England bowler
It is a demanding lifestyle - it can start to play tricks on your mind
Adam Gilchrist, Australia wicket-keeper
No-one wants a two-bit product where blokes are only giving 75% because that's all they've got left
Tim May, international players' chief
Burn-out doesn't happen overnight (but) once it's happened, it's too late
Duncan Fletcher, former England coach
This is not a fatuous comparison.
It is not about one person saving a life and another hitting a ball, it is about the mental and physical application needed to perform those different tasks at the top of those different professions.
In addition, the surgeon does not have an audience of 20,000 watching him and is not on TV while he does his job.
In between each of these playing days there is travel, training, meetings, sponsor and media obligations and, God willing, a few hours with the family.
From January to December this year, an England cricketer playing all forms of the game will have been away from home for 258 nights. Last year, the player would have got on 61 flights.
In some players, the cumulative affect of all these factors mounts to the point where something cracks.
Each person will react differently and each crack, when it occurs, will be triggered by a different event and manifest itself with different symptoms.
Player burn-out is a much publicised, but poorly understood phenomenon. In our sound-byte society it gets reduced to glib comments about players being "tired", veiled references to burn-out being an excuse for poor form and indignant comparisons with the workload of junior doctors and nurses.
Naturally, the reality is far more complex and requires far more careful and balanced consideration than it normally receives in the media.
The most common misconception is that burn-out is a generic malady that applies across the board to all players.
PLAYERS FORCED TO REST:
Andrew Flintoff: Continual pressure for him to be selected and rushed back to fitness has taken its toll
Shane Warne: Best bowler in the history of the game is still playing county one-day cricket but did not feature in World Cup
Graham Thorpe: Unquestionably the best one-day batsmen of his type in England, yet retired to focus on Test cricket
Muttiah Muralitharan: Not playing in one-day series against England to regain full fitness for Test series
This is, of course, nonsense. Like every affliction, it is indiscriminate and fickle. Two players will react completely differently to the same set of circumstances, the same pressures.
Some thrive, some collapse. Some breeze through and others seethe inside. By its nature, this is an affliction that arises from a large number of causes and every case will be different, but it is undeniably at its heart a "volume of cricket" issue.
It is merely tinkering with the problem to start looking at what can be "improved" about the individual factors that contribute to burn-out. The solution lies in three areas first and foremost:
After that, the game can start dealing with the individual causes identified by the study. Until then, we are simply guessing.
- Individual boards whose players are most at risk (England, Australia, South Africa and India primarily) need to work with the ICC and player associations to reduce the volume of cricket and address the scheduling issues
- The ICC must be given the power to set a maximum number of matches - the biggest concern I have is that the ICC is not in charge of our scheduling at all at the moment
- The ICC needs to commission a top-level study into player burn-out to understand the affliction better and, critically, to enable cricketers and support staff to recognise the symptoms early and address the issue with appropriate treatment before that player is debilitated
In the meantime, more and more players are going to suffer because the administrators and the media dismiss the very notion of burn-out and wilfully ignore or downplay the problem as if it is just the gripe of a few overpaid prima donnas searching for a reason for a run of poor form.