Age no deterrent

Chennai Super Kings’ Michael Hussey and Rajasthan Royals’ Rahul Dravid (below) still perform their roles with the bat competently.-S.R. RAGHUNATHAN Chennai Super Kings’ Michael Hussey and Rajasthan Royals’ Rahul Dravid (below) still perform their roles with the bat competently.

To those just retired, the IPL is perhaps a way of slowing the descent into a life without cricket, a mini-step to help prevent a steep fall, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

As Michael Hussey tucked into Amit Mishra at Chepauk on April 25, anchoring yet another run chase for Chennai Super Kings, a ‘pulse’ question popped up on TV. Was he the most reliable batsman in the Pepsi IPL 2013, viewers were asked. These things may not be awfully illuminating, but at least they’re indicators of the dominant mood. In this case, an overwhelming 76% of the respondents said ‘yes’.

Looking at scores of 20, 86*, 6, 65*, 40, 88, and 45 from Hussey’s first seven games this season, at an average of 70 (excessive, even by his standards), it is hard to disagree.

Retired from the Australian side for four months now, Hussey is one of a number of players that have turned out in the IPL after the end of their international careers. It perhaps adds to the allure of the competition for fans that they may continue to watch players that would otherwise have quietly passed into history. The IPL is a fantasist’s paradise, a chance to watch heroes from an earlier time — seemingly over the hill — delightfully roll back the years.

Ricky Ponting’s catch to dismiss Unmukt Chand was disturbingly good; Rahul Dravid still performs his role with the bat competently for Rajasthan Royals; and Muttiah Muralitharan, the old fires still alive, continues to leave batsmen fumbling. Anil Kumble, written off as a T20 bowler after the opening IPL season, fought back — the only way he knows — and dragged Royal Challengers Bangalore to the brink of the title the next. Test cricket, or any international cricket, may be beyond them, but there is life enough to meet the demands of the 20-over game.

To those just retired, the IPL is perhaps a way of slowing the descent into a life without cricket, a mini-step to help prevent a steep fall. Talking to Cricinfo not long after his retirement, Dravid likened the IPL to a “weaning-off” period. “Playing cricket has been such a big part of my life, so to just walk away might have been hard,” he said. “Some of the senior guys who’ve retired and played the IPL say it is a good way, in some ways, to slowly wean yourself off the drug that is cricket.”

PTI

The IPL also offers its fans the opportunity to wonder what might have been. Shane Warne, to several minds the best captain Australia never had, inspired an unheralded Rajasthan Royals to the inaugural IPL title. Nearly 40 then, he was told that M. S. Dhoni had talked of Twenty20 being a young man’s game.

“In that case,” Warne retorted, “I’ll be back with a walking stick next year.” Adam Gilchrist has treated viewers to two splendid hundreds in the competition, besides leading Deccan Chargers to the championship in 2009.

The uncharitable view, though, is that the IPL is merely a cushy retirement home for players seeking one last pay-day, where they can rest on their reputations and cash in their large cheques at the end. It is an understandable sentiment, although team-owners are not silly enough to persist endlessly with ineffective players. Warne overestimated his own abilities, and clearly struggled in his final IPL season (to say nothing of last year’s Big Bash League).

So too did Sourav Ganguly, who — notwithstanding his qualities as a leader — laboured through the 2012 season with Pune Warriors. Gilchrist announced his retirement from the IPL last summer, dissatisfied with his own poor form, both with the bat and behind the stumps. But he has returned, a decision he perhaps regrets already.

Ponting joined Mumbai Indians on the back of a fine Shield season, but has done little with the bat and left himself out in the game against KKR. To supporters, it can be difficult to watch their idols embarrass themselves this way.

Not all players, though, look out of place. Hussey and Dravid, by dint of the nature of their skills, were not going to fall away; their batting has never been about thunderous flashes of brilliance and power but the meticulous accumulation of runs. It also helps that they have kept themselves remarkably fit; Hussey is arguably CSK’s best fielder.

“In everything he does on the cricket field he is a perfect professional and that’s not by accident,” the Chennai fielding coach Steve Rixon told the IPL website recently. “He trains harder than the rest of the guys. It’s not easy but he works hard to get the job done.”

It could also be argued that international retirement has actually helped his form in the IPL. But Hussey’s purple patch has coincided with a rotten period for Australian batting, selectors scraping the barrel in naming their squad for the Ashes. It has prompted thoughts, inevitably, of a return.

“Well, I am comfortable with my decision to retire from Test cricket,” he said, scotching all speculation. “It was more about the schedule of international cricket being extremely tough and having a young family at home. Now, I am able to pick and choose games; you will not be able to do that when you play for Australia.”