Old is gold standard

Twenty20 does put a premium on young talent but that doesn’t necessarily mean the veterans are redundant in this format.

THE BOSS: Chris Gayle has been one of the stand-out performers in this season’s IPL. AFP

Chris Gayle, who made a bigger name for himself playing for the Royal Challengers Bangalore than he could in the maroon colours of the West Indies, was ignored by the Virat Kohli-led side in the January auction as he didn’t “fit” into their long-term plans in the Indian Premier League. In other words the Jamaican, pushing 39, was too old for them considering the three-year contract that they had to give him. Given the pace at which the game unfolds and its physical demands, Twenty20 does put a premium on young talent but that doesn’t necessarily mean the veterans are redundant in this format. In fact, the T20’s short history shows us that it’s the first resort of retired players.

From Shahid Afridi to Shane Watson and from Brendon McCullum to Mitchell Johnson, players who have bid goodbye to international cricket have been plying their trade with various degrees of success in private T20 leagues that are mushrooming around the world. Among Indians too there were a fair number of players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly who tasted middling to good success, parading their skills in the IPL well after their international careers.

The 11th edition of the IPL has once again brought to focus the value and utility of senior players who have stolen the march over their young colleagues with performances that have lit up the tournament. Of course, there have been some letdowns like Yuvraj Singh, Brendon McCullum, Kieron Pollard and Johnson among others but there are quite a few others who have proved age is just a number. Whether it’s Gayle or MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo or Watson, players that have breached age 35 have shown they are not yet a spent force in the youngest format of the game. At 34 years and 78 days, AB de Villiers is no spring chicken either but he too has been one of the top performers this season.

Bought by Kings XI Punjab after going unsold in three rounds, Gayle is currently among the top 10 batsmen this season with 302 runs at an average of 100.66 and a strike rate of 154.27, having played just five games. He was also the first centurion of this edition and the only other batsman to make a ton in the ongoing season is Watson, just a month shy of turning 37. Watson’s performance is a revelation because so disappointing was his performance with the RCB last season that he even contemplated quitting the game.

Chennai Super Kings, dubbed the ‘dad’s army’ for their collection of veteran players, have mocked at naysayers with their performances. And hearteningly for their team management, the ‘oldies’ have led the way – be it Dhoni, Watson or Bravo and occasionally Imran Tahir and Harbhajan Singh.  

“I value experience,” CSK coach Stephen Fleming said recently when questioned about his team’s composition. “If the player is in shape and performing well, I think that he’s a valuable asset. Not often do you see young players come out and make a mark. People talk a lot about it but very rarely do young players shoot the lights out. I’m not sure when a young player came out and was the top run-scorer. You get some exceptions like (Sunrisers Hyderabd leggie) Rashid Khan and (teenaged off-spinner) Washington Sundar, but there’s only a handful. Whereas, experienced players play a major part in the whole tournament, so that’s why I value experience,” said Fleming.

Dhoni has turned the clock back with some vintage stuff and the CSK skipper occupies the fifth slot in the top run-makers’ list. It’s not just the runs but the manner in which he has scored them that has been the story of the season. At almost 170 runs per 100 balls, he has the fifth best strike rate so far this year. With Gayle, Watson and Dhoni among the top-10 scorers, it has underlined the value of experience even in T20. In a franchise league where your ability to perform under pressure is constantly challenged, it’s the experience that comes to a player’s aid – whether it’s Bravo’s smarts while defending a few runs off the last over or Dhoni’s uber cool approach while chasing a big target. These are traits you are not born with, but you acquire them over years of grind.       

“Age isn’t really a barrier,” Fleming pointed out. “I still think the big guys still have a lot to give. The calmness around the group plays a big part. Yes, we have some youngsters around but under pressure, experience counts. There are not many games where you don’t have pressure.”

In a league that requires constant travelling, training, playing in the harsh summer heat and repeating the same routine for close to two months, it remains to be seen if the veterans would be able to maintain the same intensity and passion or run out of steam. The league is half-way through and the veterans aren’t showing any signs of relenting yet.

 

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