‘Oldies’ Turn Back The Clock, Prove Age is Just A Number in IPL
CSK were massively trolled during the auction for bringing on board 11 players who were above the age of 30.
Ever since the T20 World Cup in 2016, MS Dhoni has been anything but his best. While his average of 33.61 cannot be held to gun-point, his strike-rate of 116.53 left much to be desired. How long could a 36-year-old cricketer keep playing? His declining prowess with the bat was invariably associated to his age and adjectives like ‘old warhorse’ were unanimously linked to the former skipper.
In this IPL and against Kings XI Punjab when CSK were set a target of 198, Dhoni had his opportunity. Equipped with an unfriendly back, he scored 74 from just 44 runs, only to see his team lose by 4 runs. It not only silenced his critics but also proved that age matters for little in the format.
‘Old’ Stars Performing Well in The IPL Over The Years
It is not the first time that the IPL has seen cricketers over the age of 35 setting the stage on fire. This season, Shane Watson, Chris Gayle and Harbhajan Singh have already left an imprint and players like Ambati Rayudu and AB de Villiers, who have crossed the 30-year mark, are in fine form. Over the years, we have witnessed players like Shane Warne, Brad Hogg, Ashish Nehra, Brendon McCullum and Pravin Tambe perform exceedingly well, which only throws away the myth that T20 suits only the kids.
The CSK franchise had been massively trolled during the auction this year for bringing on board 11 players who were above the age of 30. At one stage, the average age of the side had crossed 30, which was brought down to 29 after several uncapped players were included in the squad. However, contrary to belief, CSK exceeded all expectations and currently sit atop the table with 6 wins in 8 games – most of which have been engineered by ‘old’ stalwarts like Dhoni, Watson, Dwayne Bravo or Rayudu.
Experience Trumps in The End
So, how important is experience in this format? In the slam-bang version of cricket, where a batsman is expected to go for the big hits from the first delivery, how can an experienced campaigner bring solidity to the line-up?
For one, the level of competition in the tournament is intense, with international players all coming under one roof, and in such a scenario, it helps to have players who have played the others in the side. While the sense of mystery that an unknown player brings is refreshing, it is players like Virat Kohli or de Villiers who will be able to read international bowlers better. This will, in turn, help them to pace the innings with maturity.
Secondly, even though players like Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant have been pinpointed as the future of Indian cricket, the levels of consistency exhibited by them still leaves much to be desired. While Samson averaged 27.57 in the IPL last year, Pant and Iyer both have been unable to grasp onto their chances in the international circuit.
At times, they fail due to inexperience and on many occasions, the younger players are unable to cope with a bad game and not knowing how to pull the situation back, they fall even further, a case in point being Sarfaraz Khan.
Sarfaraz started off his IPL journey on a blistering note in 2015 but fitness issues and injury concerns side-lined him for the last two seasons. This year, he was retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore, but he hardly looked at ease in the 3 matches that he played.
Without giving off any hopes of redemption, he now finds himself warming the benches.
CSK coach Stephen Fleming holds a similar view.
“People talk a lot about it but very rarely do young players shoot the lights out. I am not sure when a young player came out and was the top run-scorer. Rashid Khan - you get some exceptions, Washington Sundar, but there's only a handful whereas experienced players play major parts in the whole tournament so that's why I value experience. If the professional player is in shape and performing well, I think they're a valuable asset.”
Fitness No Longer Only For The Youngsters
Fitness, here remains of primary concern. In a format where fielding levels are expected to be sky-high, the older players in the league must ensure that they do not prove to be a liability on the field.
McCullum, since his retirement in 2015, has saved 33 runs in the IPL with his fielding and the assumption that youngsters will be the live-wires in the field was thwarted in RCB’s game against Kolkata Knight Riders on April 29, when a young RCB side redefined the term ‘butter fingers’. They dropped catches at will, failed to latch on to potential game-changing catches and conceded twos in place of singles. It eventually took a brilliant catch from a 29-year-old Kohli to bring some sanity into the proceedings.
The IPL then, has shown that age and numbers matter for so much, when the passion and the will to improve are in place. For all the cynics, Roger Federer at 36 and Leander Paes at 44 are still thriving in a sport that is essentially for the kids and there is no reason why the cricketers cannot do the same.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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