Home >mint-lounge >business-of-life >In IPL, the older, the better

On 10 April, Kolkata’s Eden Gardens was witness to a thrilling spell of spin bowling. Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR’s) Australian left-arm spinner Brad Hogg shocked Delhi Daredevils with a haul of three wickets for just 19 runs. Eden Gardens was watching something very rare unfold: Hogg’s first wicket was that of Pawan Negi, who was a year old when Hogg made his first-class debut, in February 1994. His second scalp, Sanju Samson, had not even been born. Negi is now 23 and Samson, 21; Hogg is 45, older than the two combined.

When the Twenty20 (T20) format first began to gain popularity almost a decade ago, it was seen as a young man’s game. It was a fast, high-risk, highly athletic game, with barely any time to breathe. Experience was thought to be a minor virtue in this format.

How this perception has changed! The team sheets for that match at Eden Gardens are a revelation. The KKR side’s captain was Gautam Gambhir, who is 34, but still one of the most dangerous batsmen in the Indian Premier League (IPL). A few days later, on 17 April, he would score 90 off 60 balls in a victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad. Gambhir’s opening partner, Robin Uthappa, is 30, and KKR all-rounder Yusuf Pathan is 33. Gambhir’s top fast bowler, South Africa’s Morne Morkel, is 31. Morkel’s elder brother Albie, 34, is an all-rounder in M.S. Dhoni’s team, Rising Pune Supergiants.

The Delhi Daredevils team was being led by Zaheer Khan, who is 37 and has retired from international cricket. Khan’s main spin weapon is Amit Mishra, who is 33. The South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir, 37, is an attacking wicket-taker in the Delhi squad.

It can thus be argued that the IPL, with its short matches, is an ideal format for older players, even players who have retired from the year-long rigour of international cricket. It wasn’t entirely shocking to hear that New Zealand batsman Brendon McCullum decided, earlier this year, to retire from international cricket at the age of just 34, but continued to play in the IPL. The great Australian leg-spinner, Shane Warne, set the precedent for older players in the IPL. He had already quit international cricket by the time the IPL’s inaugural season came along, but went on to become a star in the tournament, playing in several more seasons.

The IPL also provides a platform to those who have missed a lasting chance at international or first-class cricket. Take, for instance, Gujarat Lions’ leg-spinner Pravin Tambe, 44, who has been the best bowler for his franchise this season. He had never even played a first-class match before he made his IPL debut in 2013, for Rajasthan Royals, at the age of 42. He is now the second oldest player in the league, after Hogg.

“This is an amazing sight," says former India spinner Maninder Singh. “If Hogg’s ebullient nature and his unwavering passion are the main reasons for his extraordinary longevity, then Tambe’s serious nature and passion to prove that he had been denied opportunities in the past are central to his ambition." Tambe actually played first-class cricket for Mumbai after his IPL debut.

The world’s No.1 T20 bowler right now, Samuel Badree, is 35. He played a pivotal role in the West Indies’ recent triumph in the World T20. Unfortunately, injury has ruled him out of the ongoing IPL. The biggest star from the West Indies, the immensely destructive Chris Gayle, is 36. Both play for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

“Age doesn’t determine your performance. As long as you are doing well and enjoying the game, why should anyone be bothered about age?" asks Delhi Daredevils’ Tahir. “Our captain, Zaheer, is 37 and has been inspired by Ashish Nehra’s amazing comeback in international T20s."

“If you are fit, you can play in any format, more so in T20," says Mishra.

Traditionally, batsmen have often managed to stretch their careers into their late 30s and early 40s, even in Test and One Day International (ODI) cricket. The T20 format, however, has proved ideal for both older batsmen and bowlers. It’s really quite simple: Bowling four overs in a match is far less gruelling than bowling 10 overs in an ODI, or 25 overs a day in Tests.

“I think it’s just having the passion of wanting to play," says Hogg. “Everyone knows I retired in 2008, had about two-three years out of the game. I still have the passion of a five-year-old kid when I first had that dream of playing for Australia. The game’s changed, it’s evolved. It’s (T20’s) given a new lease of life to cricket and it’s given a new lease of life to me."

Another reason for the resurgence of older players in T20s is that the format can mask their lack of athleticism in the field. You only have to be on the field for 120 balls, and most of the time, it’s raining fours and sixes. The stress on a fielder, then, is not as relentless as it is in an ODI or a Test match.

“I am also motivated by Hogg’s enthusiasm. I keep talking to him and realize that there is always something to learn, no matter what your age," says Tahir.

Maninder Singh is quick to point to Hogg’s Twitter profile picture, which shows him posing like a boxer.

“Basically, I try to do everything every day," says Hogg on his fitness regime. “I try to have two days off but still do something physical. I have five days where I go really hard for an hour and a bit, and make sure I keep the fitness up. Once you stop, you lose it, and I don’t want to lose it now."

“I have seen Nehra working 2-3 hours daily on his fitness regardless of the fact that he was not playing for India. Hogg has obviously shown that anything can be achieved if you have the desire and you want to work equally hard," says Mishra.

Hogg claims that he will be able to play till he reaches 50. But former India all-rounder Madan Lal, who retired from first-class cricket at 40, sounds a note of caution: Don’t get carried away by the success of ageing players in the IPL. “Maybe an experienced player understands the match situation slightly better, but you should not forget that it is not an international game (which is more challenging than a domestic tournament like the IPL)," says the member of the 1983 World Cup-winning Indian team.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.

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