“He (Gayle) should never retire. He is always in great touch. I have never seen him struggle. He is probably the greatest T20 player ever,” Kings XI Punjab batsman Mandeep Singh said recently on his admiration for the longevity of Chris Gayle in T20 format.
Gayle not alone in this fight!
Not only Gayle, even the oldest player in this IPL, South Africa’s Imran Tahir, too has been defying age even though he didn’t get too many opportunities this year since Chennai Super Kings’ composition for the playing XI denied him to show his skill.
For the record, Tahir was the most successful bowler of IPL in 2019. Of course, not everyone can keep defying the age as Shane Watson and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are discovering this season.
Yet, the short history of IPL has witnessed so many great performers over the years who have simply ignored Father Time. In 2016, Kolkata Knight Riders’ Australian left-arm spinner Brad Hogg stunned a lot of observers with a three-wicket haul.
Among his victims were, Pawan Negi, who was just a year old when Hogg made his first-class debut, in February 1994. His second scalp, Sanju Samson, had not even been born. Negi and Samson were 23 and 21 respectively when Hogg got their wickets and the left-arm spinner was then 45 years old, older than the two combined!
T20 not just for young legs
From the very beginning of the T20 format a flawed perception was also born that it was meant only for the young players. Experience, perhaps for the first time in cricket was considered as a liability.
Over the last few years, the wheel has come full circle. Now, it has been established that the IPL or T20 format, with its short matches, is an ideal format for older players, even players who have retired from the year-long rigour of international cricket.
Although, the pioneer in this regard was former Australian leg-spinner, Shane Warne, who had already quit international cricket by the time the IPL’s inaugural season came along, but he not only won the inaugural trophy by his inspirational leadership but went on to play several more seasons.
The Indian oldies hitting gold
It’s not that only overseas players are an exception when it comes to defying the age factor. Former India player Zaheer Khan led Delhi Daredevils at the age of 37 and after his retirement from international cricket.
Delhi’s Amit Mishra is there forever and performing outstandingly season after season until he was ruled out from this edition because of an unfortunate injury.
Former IPL player Pravin Tambe created history when at the age of 48 years; he became the first Indian to play in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) just before this IPL when he made his debut for Trinbago Knight Riders. Tambe had never even played a first-class match before he made his IPL debut in 2013, for Rajasthan Royals, at the age of 42.
Interestingly, Tambe actually played first-class cricket for Mumbai after his IPL debut. “Age doesn’t determine your performance. As long as you are doing well and enjoying the game, why should anyone be bothered about age?” Tahir had told this writer once.
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Test cricket and ODI cricket were biased in accommodating batsmen who could stretch their careers into their late 30s and early 40s. However, the T20 format brought some parity in this regard. Former India pacer Ashish Nehra’s inspirational comeback is well-documented that how bowling four overs in a match is far less grueling than bowling 10 overs in an ODI, or 25 overs a day in Tests.
One of the reasons why the older players have got a fresh lease of life in T20s is that this format can mask their lack of athleticism in the field. You only have to be on the field for 120 balls, and more often than not, 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.
Can Gayle do a Rhodes?
England’s Wilfred Rhodes played Test cricket until he turned 52. UAE’s Khurram Khan played ODI cricket till the age of 43. Hogg had claimed in the past that he would be able to play till he reached 50. That of course is not possible as he has retired but can Gayle and Tahir possibly do the unthinkable?
It was during the conversation for an IPLT20.com’s video where Gayle was interviewing Mandeep when this Punjab teammate suggested that he should never retire.
Gayle seems to have taken that seriously when he, 41 years of age now, said "cancel retirement" and added that "no retirement coming anytime soon"!!
(Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.)