Yuvraj Singh is back on the comeback trail – his fifth since the 2011 World Cup – to the Indian limited-overs teams.
MS Dhoni has just stepped down from the captaincy of India’s 50 and 20-over sides, but continues to be around as wicketkeeper-batsman.
Across the border to the left, one-time Pakistan captains (and no doubt many others) feel it’s time for Misbah-ul-Haq to go.
Younis Khan put in seven hours and 18 minutes at the crease at Sydney Cricket Ground last week – minus those 438 minutes, it could well have been bye-bye.
Yuvraj and Dhoni are 35. Misbah is 42. And Younis is 39.
Cynics will say that they are all a year or two older; that sort of thing does happen in this part of the world. But whether or not that’s true in the case of these four gentlemen, those numbers are pretty ripe anyway, especially for the two from Pakistan.
Sport is a young person’s gig. Once upon a time, cricket wasn’t. More recently, you had to be of the calibre of a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid to play till around 40. Which is why Rangana Herath’s stable position in the Sri Lanka team is so interesting. He will be 39 in a couple of months, and even his build causes him to stand out in this era of ultra-fit, gym-moulded cricketers.
Brad Hogg’s the other one; a month short of 46, he’s still got his tongue out, bustling around the outfield, sending in his chinamen for Melbourne Renegades.
Some others, Adam Voges and Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir and Mohammad Hafeez, are all around as well. Rare is the follower of the game that feels these men have a lot of years in the game left.
Cricket, all sport at the highest level, is ultra-professional now, of great levels of fitness, of sprinting around – whether at the crease or beyond it, of rifling in throws and leaping across boundary ropes and back. And, though ten press-ups after scoring a century looks good, a massive leap with bat in one hand and helmet in the other looks more par for the times.
So, forget 42, even 35 is the sort of age where you add words like ‘still’ when describing a cricketer – still giving his best in domestic cricket, still hoping for a comeback, he still hasn’t given up hope … Yuvraj, for example. These gentlemen, all of them, are at an age when fans as well as journalists question their very existence, almost. And talk of a ‘last hurrah’ dominates discussions.
Gone are the days of Wilfred Rhodes and Jack Hobbs and Dr WG Grace, after all. There’s little genteel or amateurish about the game today. The selection of Rishabh Pant, just 19, in the same team as Yuvraj is met with excitement, while that of the older man is viewed with scepticism.
But always there is that wonderful cliché: Age is just a number.
This season, Yuvraj topped the list of highest scorers for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy, with 672 runs from eight innings. One run more than the much younger Manan Vohra, who got his figures from 13 innings, and at an average of 51.61 to Yuvraj’s 84.00. Hunger, anyone?
And what about Misbah? Barely half a year ago, he led Pakistan to a famous drawn Test series in England, hitting a century and two half-centuries in the four Tests. He then scored 76 runs in six innings in Australia, and Ramiz Raja reacted by saying, “I think Misbah’s time is up.”
Maybe it is. A poor series at 22 is just a poor series. Blooded too early – he wasn’t ready. A poor series at 32 is not the end of the world but a warning bell. A poor series at 42 – well, it’s like a death knell. But does it have to be one?
And, crucially, who replaces Misbah? Indeed, did the Indian selectors have a better option than Yuvraj for the finisher at No. 5 or No. 6 with Dhoni preferring to bat at No. 4?
I can hear roars of ‘Manish Pandey’, and it sounds right, too. Even the lower-decibel murmurs of ‘Kedar Jadhav’ sound reasonable. Neither man has given bad accounts of himself in the few opportunities he has got over the years. But to ask again: What of Yuvraj? Is he old enough, and incapable enough, to be sent off to the home for the infirm already?
Dhoni – let’s not even go there, but Younis?
“Before the third Test, I was of the opinion that Younis should also go, but he batted well and can play for some more time,” said Wasim Akram after the end of the disastrous Test series in Australia. Just goes to show, doesn’t it?
Again, where are the replacements? Misbah and Younis bring to the table a focus on fitness much younger Pakistani cricketers remain ignorant of. Bar Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, not one Pakistani batsman in the recent past has shown the staying power the old boys do so often. And we’re talking Test cricket – not Twenty20s, where Hobart Hurricanes can drop Kumar Sangakkara after a lean trot and replace him with Ben McDermott, with the latter’s 21-ball 31 seemingly enough to keep Sangakkara out for a while.
This isn’t about being kind to the senior citizens of the cricket world. No. That sort of thing went out with the entry of cheerleaders and leaping flames choreographed to orgasmic yells of THAT’S A MAXIMUM! Or even before that, to be fair. No, nostalgia-tinted glasses have little space today, and I for one am fine with that. When your time’s up, your time’s up.
As we wait for that time, though, perhaps this is what the powers could do (a) make sure there is a good enough replacement – in terms of skill, pedigree and all those good things, and (b) please, please don’t go by the number in the age column. That’s unfair, if not unkind.