Over the hill at 30? Selectors shouldn’t be too quick to write off cricket veterans

2012-02-02 00:00

THE demands on international cricketers are increasing and so too are the pressures to move the older statesmen out and replace them with young blood.

The injection of youth into international squads is essential, but it should not be at the cost of losing senior players prematurely.

There is a tendency among selectors and the media, especially in South Africa, to say that players are over the hill once they hit 30. Yet there are many cricketers who have a shelf life well into their late 30s and early 40s and still add exceptional value to their teams.

Michael Hussey, whose international Test career began when he was 30, is a case in point. So too is Ricky Ponting, who has scored more Test centuries and fifties in his 30s at a better strike rate than when he was in his teens and 20s.

Dale Benkenstein, who played just four one-day international games for South Africa, is another example. Benkenstein, who had a superb provincial record playing for Natal, played his last ODI for the Proteas in 2002 at the age of 28 and was overlooked by the selectors thereafter.

Benkenstein has gone on to play 117 matches for the UK county side Durham, averaging 49,42 with the bat and leading Durham to win the County Championship.

Durham are still benefitting enormously from his skill as a player at the age of 38.

One can’t help but to think what an asset he would have been for South Africa.

In the Protea set-up, Jacques Kallis at 36 and Mark Boucher at 35 have not escaped suggestions by the media that they should consider hanging up their bats. After being felled by a bouncer at Centurion and his “pair” in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead, there was immediate speculation as to Kallis’s future.

Boucher has also been feeling the heat. He knows that every failure with the bat or mistake with the gloves puts his position in the Proteas fold under further pressure.

Even Shaun Pollock was not exempt from criticism about his lack of pace towards the end of his career, despite the fact that he was still taking wickets and bowling at over 130km/h.

Ponting had an uncomfortable few months leading up to the Border/Gavaskar Test series against India, where every innings could have been his last.

The selectors kept their faith in the 37-year-old Tasmanian, however, and he rewarded them handsomely by scoring 544 runs in the series at an average of 108,8.

Recently Australia have opted for a few old timers in the T20 format where youngsters are often preferred.

The Australian selectors have chosen Brad Hogg at the age of 41 in their T20 squad to play in the tri-series against India and Sri Lanka.

The veterans have also made their mark in the Australian T20 Big Bash League where the likes of Brett Lee (35), Shane Warne (42) and Stuart MacGill (40) have proved they are far from has-beens.

Sadly, selectors can make the mistake of writing off senior players too early.

These players add far more value to their teams than simply putting runs on the board or taking wickets.

They are important role models with years of experience in pressure match situations and provide invaluable opportunities for youngsters to learn the ropes of international cricket.

 

Neil Johnson is a former Zimbabwe, Western Province and Dolphins cricketer turned commentator who resides in the midlands.

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