Cricket’s great dinosaurs facing extinction

We’re back folks! Apologies for the lack of cricket-related nonsense over the couple of weeks. Output should hopefully return to normal now.

Having seen some of the crusty specimens on show in the IPL, it’s easy to forget that players eventually have to get old and retire. What with Shane Warne’s Liz Hurley-induced new look and Jacques Kallis’ suspiciously rejuvenated hair, it could almost be the year 2000 again, when T20 cricket was still a twinkle in the ECB’s eye, nobody had heard the words ‘switch-hit’, ‘Hawkeye’ or ‘DLF maximum’ and dinosaurs ruled the earth (might need to check the veracity of that one). However, international cricket is going to have to gear itself for a lot of retirement parties and emotional farewell press conferences in the next few years by the looks of things.

Let’s look at the present situation. Of the eleven all-time leading run scorers in Test cricket, six are still playing – Tendulkar (aged 39), Ponting (37) , Kallis (36), Jayawardene (34), Chanderpaul (37) and Sangakkara (34) – and one has just retired – Dravid (39). Looking a little further down the list we see the likes of Laxman (37) and, even though they won’t be challenging for the top spots, Strauss (35), Hussey (36) and Samaraweera (35). Now most of these players aren’t ready to retire just yet but the countdown has definitely started to tick for most of their careers. Quite conceivably all of them could retire within a couple of years of one another.

Now as far as we can tell, mass extinction on this scale hasn’t happened for approximately 65 million years and certainly, within cricketing circles, it’s very rare that so many of the top players go out at the same time. The nearest to the present situation we can come up with (without there being a world war involved) is a period in the early 90s, when the likes of Greenidge, Richards, Miandad, Gower and Border all disappeared off the face of the cricketing planet within about 3 years of one another.

So is there a problem with this? Well not per se, apart from the fact that approximately 1 billion Tendulkar fans are suddenly all going to have to find something better to do than hero-worship a short man carrying a plank. All great careers have to come to an end (hint, hint Adam Gilchrist, Sourav Ganguly, Shane Warne etc.) and that’s just the way things are. The biggest impact is likely to be on their teams, as India are discovering at the moment. After all, they’ve currently got a 13,288 run hole where Rahul Dravid used to be, and assuming Laxman, Tendulkar and Sehwag don’t last too much longer in Test cricket, that’s a Gigantosaurus-sized 45,717 runs they’ve got to try and replace. Sri Lanka, too, are going to face a D-Day of their own when they have to find replacements for Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Samaraweera, and given how hard they’ve found it to cope without a certain 800-wicket-taking bowler, they might struggle.

What we might see, then, is a new age, let’s call it the Paleogene Period (that’s a geological joke, of which we’re thoroughly ashamed). Batting totals might reduce slightly as younger, more inexperienced players have to find their way in the game against experienced bowlers. Many batsmen may struggle to establish themselves and lineups might fluctuate more as a result. We’ve already seen evidence of this in the past year or so, with teams like Australia and the West Indies blooding high numbers of youngsters and bowlers enjoying a new dominance. Fans will have to find a new generation of players to idolise and we might see a slight lull in the devotion to subcontinental cricketing giants as the new ones find their feet. The cricketing landscape will probably not change in the long-term, but it will, at some point soon, go through a period of batting regeneration. We shall, of course, watch it with interest. Probably with lots of beer.

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