No league for old men

No league for old men

Anxious wait:  Deccan Chargers’  skipper Adam Gilchrist failed to find his touch with the bat in IPL III. PTI

The myth that Twenty20 cricket isn’t a bastion of young legs and young guns alone might have been successfully exploded by the wondrous accomplishments of Sachin Tendulkar in particular, but what IPL III has starkly illustrated is that experience alone is no guarantee for success.

The short list of retirees from international cricket that has struggled to earn its corn bill reads like a veritable Who’s Who of the modern game. The two that have disappointed the most, with one match each left, are left-handed Australian legends who, through their methods, redefined the approach to batsmanship in two different forms of the game.

In their pomp, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist instilled fear and trepidation in the hearts of the opposition. Hayden defied every accepted tenet of Test match batting, carving a niche for himself with his risk-fraught, domineering approach . He wasn’t chary of walking down the pitch and hitting over the top in the first over of a Test series, backing himself against the best in the business and often setting the tone for Australia’s triumphant run against all-comers at the start of the last decade.

Single-handedly, Gilchrist changed the way wicket-keepers the world over were looked at. Long before he arrived in a blaze of murderous strokes, the game had seen accomplished wicketkeeper-batsmen; the Gilchrist era, however, signaled the end of the specialist stumper. He showed the way and the rest followed suit, Test match teams often plumping for the lesser ‘keeper if he had a lot more to offer with the bat.
Gilchrist’s no-holds-barred approach at number seven in the longer version, and as a most feared pulveriser at the top of the one-day tree, singled him out as another influential member of the all-conquering Australian set-up for the better part of a decade starting from the late 90s.

To see the duo batting from poor memory, as it were, for a better part of IPL III hasn’t made for pretty viewing. Both proud and intelligent men, they will know when their time is up. It hasn’t helped that neither man has had any competitive cricket in the last several months leading up to the IPL, but what was perceived as rust at the start of the tournament has since mushroomed into something a lot more permanent.

Here are the cold stats. In 15 innings each, Hayden has scored just 329 runs and Gilchrist an even more damning 285. Both have only one half-century apiece; Hayden has an average of 21.93 and is striking at 132.66 for every 100 balls faced, while Gilchrist averages 19 and has a strike rate of 157.45. These men were expected to provide the thrust and impetus to their respective sides; Hayden’s Chennai Super Kings have compensated for the beefy opener’s lack of runs but skipper Gilchrist’s Deccan Chargers haven’t quite managed the same, even if the defending champs did put up a spirited performance on their way to the semifinals.

Clearly, there is a correlation between being involved in active cricket and delivering in the high-pressure, high-intensity cauldron of the IPL. This is not to say that every active cricketer has set the tournament alight or that every retiree is a total failure, but the vividly disappointing stats that Hayden and Gilchrist possess merely reiterates the fact that there is no substitute for being in constant touch with the game, no matter how impressive past performances and career stats might be.

As is the case, there will be individuals who will buck the trend, defy the norms and confound the pundits. It should come as no surprise that the man who tops that list answers to the name of Anil Kumble. By his own admission, Kumble’s career was an example in always proving the pundits wrong. That, pushing 40 and retired from international cricket for more than an year and a half, he continues to do so is so typical of the man who strode the international stage like a colossus for nearly 19 years.
The competitive streak that makes Kumble what he is means he will never settle for second best. Going into the third-place play-off tie, the former Indian skipper has 13 wickets from 15 games, with a best of three for nine and an economy rate of 6.53. Those are outstanding numbers for someone who is no more than an occasional cricketer these days. Just like his great buddy and fellow-leggie, Shane Warne. Warne was lost to international cricket long before Gilchrist, Kumble and Hayden, but he has managed to hold his own in IPL. He finished this year with 11 wickets from 14 ties, his economy rate of 7.62 more than acceptable for a 40-year-old up against fearless batsmen, broad and heavy bats, and small boundaries.

That could lead to the theory that it is easier for bowlers to slip back into rhythm than for batsmen who have relied on hand-eye co-ordination and lightning quick reflexes to do their bidding. It’s a theory that gains further credence when you realise that part-time international player Sanath Jayasuriya has managed just 33 runs in four innings, and that part-time domestic player Sourav Ganguly, never mind his 493 runs from 14 games, has a strike rate of just 117.66.

With the player auction for IPL IV less than six months away, franchisees will undoubtedly have taken note of this trend involving retired international stars. What course they adopt at the auction will be watched with keen interest.

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