LONDON // Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, at 39, may be the oldest cricketer in the World Twenty20, but he has just as much chance of achieving success as any youngster. The batting exploits of retired Australians Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist in the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) have only made the "age versus youth" debate more interesting in the latest format of the game.
The 37-year-olds comfortably won the opening round, with Hayden emerging the tournament's leading scorer with 572 runs in 12 matches and Gilchrist the second-best with 495 in 16. Wicketkeeper-batsman Gilchrist was also named the player of the tournament for leading the 2008 bottom-placed Deccan Chargers to title triumph this year. "The success of the senior players in the IPL highlights the fact that Twenty20 can accommodate all cricketers - if they are good enough - regardless of their age," said Gilchrist. "Like baseball, you will see that as T20 continues to develop, older players and especially batsmen will start extending their careers to their late thirties and beyond."
Also highlighting the veterans' contribution were India's Anil Kumble, 38, Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan, 37 and Australian Shane Warne, 39. The spinners proved with their match-winning spells that performance mattered more than age. The leg-spinner Kumble, who quit international cricket last year, set the IPL on fire with an amazing 5-5 performance against Rajasthan Royals before ending up the tournament's second-highest wicket-taker with 21.
Muralitharan, the world's leading bowler in Tests (770 wickets) and one-day internationals (505), was as disciplined as ever, grabbing 14 wickets for semi-finalists Chennai Super Kings. The wily Sri Lankan off-spinner had an economy-rate of 5.22 - the best by any bowler with 10 or more matches in this year's competition. "I think Twenty20 is ideally suited for us [older players]. It's good knowing that you only have to bowl four overs," said Kumble, who led Bangalore to the final.
"I agree it's a young man's game and you need to be supremely fit and athletic, but if you have six or seven guys like that, experienced guys can take the pressure and use their skills to pull a team through." India's Sachin Tendulkar, who has opted out of Twenty20 internationals, also batted for the veterans, saying that age was no barrier to success. "It's a cricketers' game, so it doesn't matter whether you are young or old. It's a cricket match," said Tendulkar, the world's top scorer in Tests and one-day internationals.
If further proof was needed of the veterans' significance, it was provided by Warne who marshalled his limited resources well to lead the Rajasthan Royals to victory last year besides excelling as a bowler. "You need to pinch yourself to believe that he [Warne] can still spin a web around the batsmen," the Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh said. "He retired in 2007, but give him the ball and the magic resumes."