When Jamie Vardy scored a penalty two weekends ago to help his club Leicester City beat Watford, he became the first player ever in the English Premier League (EPL) to score in each of the first nine matches of the season. If he scores in Leicester’s next match, against Newcastle United, in two days’ time, he will hold the joint record for scoring in 10 consecutive EPL matches (the current record is spread over two seasons). For his feats he was named the league’s player of the month in October—a huge honour marking a long, long journey for the man who five years ago was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels in the anonymity of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.

But what makes him truly unique is this—he has announced himself in one of the world’s top football leagues at the ripe old age of 28. That’s around five years (by a rough estimate) older than the average breakthrough age when players become stars. In a season of fairy-tale stories in the EPL, Vardy’s must be the blockbuster. A decade ago, he was working in a Sheffield factory; apart from the immediate records, he’s now on course to be the first Englishman in 15 years to end an EPL season as top goalscorer and, days after that, to be part of the England squad for Euro 2016. For good measure, he has already been recorded as the fastest player in the EPL this season.

How far has he come? A recent interview to The Guardian newspaper put it in perspective. Asked what was different about life as an EPL player, he said: “I don’t miss having to grab meals at motorway service stations.... When you are having to dash off after work to make sure you arrive on time for training you end up eating whatever fast food is on offer, just to get something inside you."

That’s the wisdom of a player who has spent time on the factory shop floor, who has seen enough of life at close quarters to not take things for granted. A player who will instead take his chance, however late, and make the most of it.

I write this as Australia play New Zealand in a cricket Test at the Waca ground in Perth. There’s a similar fairy-tale story there too; Adam Voges, the local boy, has just scored a century in his first Test at his home ground. That’s only half the story—Voges is 36 and a mere five months into his Test career. Nine years ago, he was twelfth man in a Test at this ground, tantalizingly close to the real thing. Voges kept getting among the runs and, eventually, got that chance. And he took it with both hands; he scored a century in his first Test, the oldest debut centurion in Test history. He now seems to be making up for lost time: In his nine Tests, he has racked up two centuries and three half-centuries. “There were certainly times that I thought this would never happen," he said after his century. “The older you get probably (the more) you feel your chances slipping away."

It is possible, even in today’s era of hyper fitness, to prolong one’s career at the highest levels way beyond the accepted cut-off of the mid-30s. Australian cricketers seem to do it at will and Voges might have had the redoubtable Michael Hussey as his role model. He made his Test debut at 30 and, in less than eight years, notched up 19 centuries, ending up with a career average of above 50. He was still around in the Indian Premier League (IPL) a few months ago, making the highest score in the play-off to take Chennai Super Kings to the season’s final. And that was five days shy of his 40th birthday. They don’t call him Mr Cricket for nothing.

Cricket, though, even in the blistering heat of an Indian summer, is a less physical sport than football. Or rugby. Those who have played both sports say without a doubt that rugby is the more demanding. So you have to admire the sheer perseverance of New Zealand’s fly-half Dan Carter. Four years ago, during the rugby world cup in New Zealand, Carter was injured before a group match and missed the rest of that tournament; he had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates were crowned world champions. He was 29 then and at his peak; it seemed his chance to seal his greatness with a world cup medal had gone.

Carter was having none of it. For the next four years, his one focus was the recent world cup in England; there, he played at times like a man on a personal mission—heretical though that may sound in the All Blacks’ context. In the final, against Australia, he scored 19 points as the All Blacks overpowered their rivals and was named man of the match. More importantly, he finally received his winner’s medal.

In a week of tragedy and devastation, the spotlight is again on sport to bring back smiles to faces. I am writing this before Tuesday’s football match at Wembley Stadium between England and France that was played, it seems, mainly as an act of defiance and unity. The weekend, when Barcelona play Real Madrid in the season’s first Clásico, should bring more smiles. And sometime next week, Pakistani cricketer Rafatullah Mohmand could make his international debut in a Twenty20 match against England. All of 39 years young. Who would bet against another fairy-tale script?

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor
of Espncricinfo.

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