Men not so young have made it their game, too!

Look at the Indian Premier League (IPL) in cricket. When it was first conceptualised, it was termed a young man’s game. But if anything, starting from Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Anil Kumble, to Michael Hussey, Brad Hogg and Zaheer Khan, many a veteran has debunked this theory.

Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne celebrates his team's victory over Chennai Super Kings in the final of the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket tournament at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Mumbai on June 01, 2008. Warne had retired from Australian cricket and his captaincy was brilliant in the IPL.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Skipper Adam Gilchrist of Deccan Chargers receives the trophy after his team had won the IPL Twenty20 Final match at The Wanderers Cricket Stadium in Johannesburg on May 24, 2009. Deccan Chargers won by six runs against Royal Challengers Bangalore. After hanging up his gloves in international cricket, Gilchrist was inspirational for Deccan Chargers.   -  Reuters

Zaheer Khan, post international retirement, is doing a good job as Delhi Daredevils' skipper.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Two years ago, Viswanathan Anand, one of the most articulate of Indian sportspersons, when asked about age as a factor vis-à-vis sporting performance had this to say: “It clearly is. But since it’s not something you can change, I don’t keep thinking about it. It’s more for the observer than the player.”

Now look at the Indian Premier League (IPL) in cricket. When it was first conceptualised, it was termed a young man’s game. It was deemed cricket’s opportunity to shed the tag of certain laziness which was always associated with it. But if anything, starting from Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Anil Kumble, to Michael Hussey, Brad Hogg and Zaheer Khan, many a veteran has debunked this theory. An observer, like Anand said, has always been stumped. But the player has indeed revelled.

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Much of the awe expressed at veterans performing as well as they have stems from a few assumptions one makes. Shorter the format, fitter the player needs to be is a truism. But why can’t a veteran do this? Tennis, the most athletic of sports, has 30-year-olds (even 40-year-olds if one considers Leander Paes) faring like never before. The belief that a senior cannot keep up with the newest advances in fitness is a myth that has been bust. A veteran has proved more adept at absorbing modern-day techniques than many.

If anything, the shortest of formats has given a new lease of life for those bowlers like Ashish Nehra, who admittedly no longer have the stamina to last a Test match, but can be infinitely more effective in T20s. In fact, one might even be tempted to ask as to how many in the Indian team can run like the 34-year-old Mahendra Singh Dhoni? Or display lightning quick reflexes behind the wickets like only he does?

That modern-day cricket is about new ideas and innovation is another of the truisms. But IPL history is replete with examples of veterans being best at strategising. Warne led Rajasthan Royals to the title. Gilchrist did the same with the erstwhile Deccan Chargers and Kumble almost won it with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Not for nothing has Mumbai Indians assembled an all-star support staff in Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Jonty Rhodes.

“Age is just a number,” said Sunil Joshi, one of the veterans, who was a part of RCB’s setup in the inaugural season. “You see these guys matching with youngsters’ fitness and winning matches. Else why should all seniors be leading teams?”

“When the first RCB team was formed, people spoke so much,” he said. “They said it was a Test team. But Rahul (Dravid) was the team’s highest scorer. And even after he went to Rajasthan he kept on scoring. Adaptability is the key. Once you have skill, you can.”

 

All of which has had a positive fallout in another way too. It has resurrected the oral traditions in cricket where a senior shares his knowledge with all. Transitional national teams have this to a certain extent, but in the IPL it has found a much wider ecosystem to flourish. It has broken the shackles in the sense that knowledge is no longer the preserve of a few. A Sanju Samson greatly benefited from Dravid, Ravindra Jadeja was first coronated by Warne and David Warner shared space with the Indian master of mayhem Virender Sehwag.

Adding to this is the fact that the IPL, for all its occasional excesses and certain clandestine ways, is a fascinating battle-ground — of ideas and skills between the young and the old which in the end enrich both.

Way back in 2010, writing for ESPNCricinfo, former Australia great Ian Chappell described a gripping duel between the legendary Warne and a young Rohit Sharma thus: “It was vintage Warne on all counts. His bowling was threatening and his captaincy was imaginative with a touch of genius. If a genius does oscillate between brilliance and madness, Warne was one minute Picasso, the next van Gogh.

“In the end his aggressive plotting prevailed, while the brave and resourceful Rohit Sharma’s efforts fell just short. Here was Rohit, a young Indian batsman of abundant skill, displaying the complementary nerve that is required to succeed at the highest level. Having survived and prospered against Warne’s devastating spell and taunting tactics will do wonders for Rohit’s confidence.

“This was a classic example of how the IPL’s multicultural format, which puts Indian and international cricketers in the same arena, can benefit the game worldwide. In this case it was a former Australian player helping, albeit inadvertently, the cause of a talented young Indian cricketer.”

In 2009, the year Kumble captained RCB to the final, he wrote on the role of the seniors in The Hindu.

“The Twenty20 game may not be for the oldies,” he wrote. “But as Sachin and Rahul also showed, we can have our days too. Individually too, Rahul had a point or two to prove. On pitches with bounce and movement, it is technique not flashiness that helps. Believe me, if not for Rahul’s technique, the bowlers would have looked far more effective than they did.”

Like both Anand and Kumble have hinted, it is indeed a no-brainer that in most sports physical, technical and strategic abilities resonate with each other at a younger age. It is also accepted that any athlete will one day definitely lose the age versus performance battle. But how much of a deterrent is it is the question. By the looks of it, not much in the IPL one might say.

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