Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Opinion | Ian Chappell >> Let's hear it for the veterans

A few players supposedly past their sell-by dates have been showing the young ones how it's done this past month and some

May 25, 2008

When I was a young lad my father, Martin, would often wander round the house singing, "The old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be." A catchy phrase will always capture the imagination of a young kid and in this instance I was also encouraged by not having to slave over a song sheet to learn the words. While nowadays the brutal truth of those words is regularly brought home to me, occasionally an "old grey mare" strikes back and it's glorious to behold.

The IPL has provided us with two exhilarating examples. First, 36-year-old Adam Gilchrist hit a blazing century off a mere 42 balls and then Sanath Jayasuriya, two years Gilchrist's senior, followed suit and belted a hundred off 45. Jayasuriya and Gilchrist, the two super-slugging openers of their era, are on the way out but they haven't forgotten that adoring fans are deserving of an encore.

It was Jayasuriya who first decided fast bowlers needed to be jolted out of their cosy existence, and inspired by his deeds, Gilchrist followed suit and added to the accelerating ulcer rate among quickies. It takes a hell of a lot of skill to constantly attack new-ball bowlers with what appears at times to be reckless abandon, but it also requires considerable nerve.

One of the finest fast bowlers I faced, Andy Roberts of the West Indies, probably best summed up the mindset of the opening batsman. When I once chided him about "dumb fast bowlers" he responded by saying, "Ian, the only people sillier than fast bowlers are the opening batsmen who face up to them."

Jayasuriya first captured the world's attention in a duet with Romesh Kaluwitharana against India in the 1996 World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar had fulfilled Indian expectations with a sublime century that posed a stiff test but the dynamic duo silenced the ecstatic Delhi crowd by racing to 42 in only three overs. Jayasuriya went on to score a brazen 79 off 76 balls to lead an improbable Sri Lankan victory. It sent shivers down the spine just watching on television.

However, that was nothing compared to watching Jayasuriya live in Singapore a few weeks later. He decided to go solo, smashing balls into the treetops and lofting good deliveries out of the ground, with one finishing on the steps of City Hall. In the process he made some good fast bowlers distinctly apprehensive. Pakistan's Aaqib Javed only half-jokingly said he wouldn't turn up for the next tournament if Jayasuriya was playing.

By the end of the tournament Jayasuriya had set the record for both the fastest 50 and 100. Every time he batted people put down their drinks and jostled for a vantage point because they didn't want to miss a ball of this mastery. On the final night Jayasuriya walked through the Singapore Cricket Club bar and everyone rose to applaud him, including four ex-international captains and that is a memory that will stay with me to the end (or until I get Alzheimer's).

Gilchrist had that same ability to empty bars and fill cricket grounds. In the 2007 World Cup final he launched a daring assault on the Sri Lankan attack (perhaps as a personal tribute to Jayasuriya) and played an innings that single-handedly placed the trophy in Ricky Ponting's grasp for the second successive time. Most cricketers only dream of making a century in the World Cup final but Adam Gilchrist scored exactly 100 of his exceptional 149 runs in boundaries. It was a skilful innings and an amazingly daring display in such an important game.

As an "old grey mare" Gilchrist now has the satisfaction of posting the fourth-fastest century in a Twenty20, a game supposedly for the young and restless. Occasionally the old can become restless. Just ask Shane Warne.

At 38 years and retired from all forms of cricket bar IPL, Warne has taken the tournament by storm, leading the Rajasthan Royals into the semi-finals with inspiring leadership and aggressive play. Following his success there are murmurings of him making a comeback for Australia. Hopefully this is a figment of someone's imagination.

Warne, Jayasuriya and Gilchrist are all going out gradually and in style, providing some wonderful entertainment in the IPL competition. It's not that making a comeback to international cricket would be beyond Warne, it's just that with what he's currently doing it would be out of tune - a bit like Martin's singing all those years ago.

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