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England's Ben Stokes
England's Ben Stokes

Kumar Sangakkara believes pandemic cricket is taking an increasing toll on cricket's leading starts after Ben Stokes decided to take an indefinite break from the game.

England vice-captain Stokes made an ahead-of-schedule return from a finger injury to lead a reserve squad to a 3-0 ODI series win over earlier this month after a coronavirus outbreak saw the initial party stood down en masse.

It was the latest demonstration of the particular challenges these times bring for elite cricketers, with all-rounder Stokes an all-format player who has spent large chunks of the past year in bio-secure bubbles on home soil and away in Sri Lanka and India.

The T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates precedes a December-January Ashes series in Australia and Stokes, who featured in the inaugural Hundred for the Northern Superchargers has elected to take a step back ahead the forthcoming five-match home Test series against India.

A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the 30-year-old would "prioritise his mental wellbeing and rest his left index finger", with managing director of England men's cricket Ashley Giles acknowledging "the ongoing pandemic has acutely compounded" the pressures of top-level cricket.

Speaking to Sky Sports, former Sri Lanka captain Sangakkara suggested such occurrences were likely to become more commonplace the longer sport has to coexist with the global health crisis.

"It all adds up. A lot of time away from home, a lot of time in bubbles, restrictions in terms of freedom of movement, a lot of protocols in place. Then the added pressure of performing at such an intensely high level in the public eye," he said.

"It's very difficult to pinpoint what could be different. Individuals deal with things differently and, over time, you can reach a point where you need a breather and a break.

"He needs support and good people around him and hopefully he's back as soon as possible.

"In the news, we've had a host of athletes who've spoken about mental well-being, the effects of COVID and the pressure around it."

Kevin Pietersen, the former England batsman, also gave the star his best wishes, noting the pain Stokes endured when his father died in December last year after a battle with cancer.

"I hope he's okay. He's a fabulous cricketer, one of the best in the world at the moment," Pietersen told Sky Sports.

“He obviously lost his dad, there are a lot of things that have happened to Ben Stokes in the last couple of years.

"I don't want to comment too much on it because we don't know what the issue is. All I know is I want him to be okay."

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21:27 (+00:00)16 Sep 2021 (Thu)