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'If I didn't ask for help it would've been a different story' - Net bowler hit by David Warner on mental health battle

Jaykishan Plaha tells of physical and mental struggles after training accident involving Australia star

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Since Jaykishan Plaha was floored by a ball, driven at point-blank range by David Warner into his head during a net session at the 2019 World Cup, he has been trying to show that he is so much more than "that guy who got hit". But that was just part of the problem.
A fractured skull, severe concussion that led to a temporary loss of feeling and strength down his right side, anxiety and depression followed as he came to terms with the setback in his cricket career, and the net-bowling opportunities he had enjoyed with some of the world's best players dried up in that moment. Things spiralled so badly that he began to feel like he "didn't want to be here".
"The ball before, one of the guys actually asked me to swap nets," Plaha recalls. "I was like, 'no, I'm all right, I want to bowl to David Warner, I'm liking this, I'm liking how it's going'.
"I bowled an inswinger and the ball came crashing straight at me. I thought either it's going to take my eye out, or it's going to hit me one way or another, hit my nose maybe. When the ball hit me, I heard a loud beep in my ear which was a concussion. So the right side of my whole body switched off completely. I couldn't feel anything, that's the reason why I dropped to the floor.
"I was just in a state of shock, I could see everyone three times. Everyone came rushing over, David Warner was obviously shocked."
Thankfully there was top medical support on hand at the Kia Oval as Australia and India prepared for their group stage match that day. Plaha was taken for CT scans, which revealed a depressed fracture to the left side of his skull. He was able to walk again within a day or two and was released from hospital after four days.
He began to regain strength in his right side and "everything was responding pretty good", but then came the blackouts and his progress stalled. A recovery that was expected to take six weeks took seven months.
"In my mind, I just thought 'I'm not going to be the same player'," Plaha says. "Whenever I was going out, shopping or something, everyone knows about it, so they'll be like, 'oh you're the guy that got hit'. When people keep saying it, you get frustrated, then I just stopped going outside.
"It did affect me very, very badly. I was getting very angry. I was getting anxiety, depression. I would just sit there on my own in the house, I just wanted to be left alone.
"It was all down to myself to pick myself up and understand what was going on because I was slowly getting to a stage where I didn't want to be here no more."
"When I started playing again, someone was like, 'oh, this guy was bowling to David Warner and now he's playing with us, he's not the same'. Stuff like that affects you mentally"
Jay Plaha
Plaha, 25 and from west London, started out as a spinner, picking up fast bowling relatively late as a 17-year-old, but he was always a kid who just loved the game and it took him far. Before the World Cup, he was a net bowler for India and Pakistan tours of England and enjoyed a stint in the Kolkata Knight Riders nets during the 2019 IPL.
Like most young players with ambitions to play at the highest level, Plaha has always put pressure on himself to perform. The opportunities on offer as a net bowler for elite teams also brings pressure; not only are you able to talk to and learn from the best, you're in prime position to be seen by the best too. When he was injured, he feared all that could be over.
"When I started playing again, I had a match and someone was like, 'oh, this guy was bowling to David Warner and now he's playing with us, he's not the same', stuff like that, and it does affect you mentally," Plaha says.
Plaha's family recognised that he might be suffering with mental health problems after the accident and supported him as he sought help from a specialist.
"That period of time, I was struggling really bad and I think if I didn't ask for help, it would have been a very, very different story and it would have had a different impact on my whole life," he says.
"As men, we've been told that we have to look a certain way, we have to be built a certain way, we have to talk a certain way.
"But inside there's a lot of people out there, including myself, that don't show it. We just smile it off, we laugh: 'We're all right, we're okay, we're fine.' But when we go back home, you lock yourself in, headphones in. It's a very, very dangerous place to be in, your own mind can be a very, very dangerous place to be in."
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the UK went into lockdown for the first time last year, Plaha weighed 86kg compared to his usual 72kg. He took time off work, began training in the gym again, started boxing and playing NFL with friends and got into better physical shape than ever. He also began a video diary, documenting his experience over two years with a YouTube series called "The Comeback". But his comeback wasn't easy.
"In the garden I was working with my dad, countless hours with tennis balls, I thought a tennis ball was going to kill me," he says.
But he has found something of that young kid who just loved the game. Now playing for Staines & Laleham CC in the Surrey Championship Division Four, he says he has gained pace and become a batting allrounder - he leads the club's batting rankings with 174 runs from five innings and a highest score of 85 not out. His return to bowling has progressed more slowly this season due to a calf injury.
Plaha hopes to go on to play in the Surrey Premier Division and plans to spend a few months honing his game in Australia with the aim of eventually securing a professional contract.
"I'm seeing my options now, and that's the main thing," Plaha says. "Seeing that, you know, 'he had a head injury but he's gone to the top'. That's what the dream is right now."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo