On the front of the glittering Indian Premier League trophy is a quote in Sanskrit: Yatra pratibha avsara prapnotihi – where talent meets opportunity. But it’s not just talented youngsters who are making the most of the opportunity; a few men on the wrong side of 30 too have shown that experience counts for a lot, even in a so-called young man’s game.
At 44, Brad Hogg is the oldest player in the IPL. But the Australian left-arm chinaman bowler is more than a trivia fact in Pepsi IPL 2015. He was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders in the February auction and when Sunil Narine was reported for his action midway through the competition, he got his first game. He took 1 for 18, but it was in his second game against Chennai Super Kings where he truly shone, grabbing 4 for 29. When Chennai were looking ominous at 64 for 2 in five overs, Hogg removed Brendon McCullum with his first delivery to turn the match in Kolkata’s favour. And if that wasn’t enough to get the crowd into a frenzy, he showed he still had the moves, busting into a dance.
The toughest part about playing cricket at 44? “Knowing that my days are numbered and wishing that I had the relaxed mental approach that I have now for the game, when I was younger and playing at international and first-class level,” Hogg tells Wisden India. The best part, according to him, is “the younger players’ skills are taking the game forward in a more entertaining aspect”.
The torchbearer for the players in the older age bracket at the moment is Ashish Nehra. He’s 36 years old, he last played international cricket in 2011, but he’s been key to Chennai Super Kings’ success, picking up 22 wickets in 16 games. He might be the butt of many unfortunate jokes, but he’s also Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s go-to bowler in times of crisis. Whether it’s bowling with the new ball, in the Power Play overs, or at the death, ‘in Ashish Nehra we trust’ seems to be the unofficial motto of the franchise.
Experience is especially useful in the knockout scenario. In Qualifier 1 against Mumbai Indians, Nehra was the tidiest of the lot. In Qualifier 2 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, he kicked it up a notch, knocking over Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in a single over to finish with 3 for 28 and a third Man of the Match award in the season.
Injuries have kept him out of the longer form of the game, but he insists he still has what it takes to keep going in the 20-over game. “It is not that Ashish Nehra has changed,” he said after the win over Bangalore. “People are noticing it more because I am 36 and a guy at this age is doing something unbelievable in T20s. But I have been doing the same things that I have been doing over the last ten years.”
But Nehra isn’t the only Indian who’s shown there’s still some gas left in the tank. Zaheer Khan has missed most of Delhi’s campaign due to fitness issues, but in the seven games he’s played, he’s shown glimpses of why he was worth the gamble at the auction. Critics had written him off, but he hit back with 2 for 9 to help Delhi tame Chennai in their own den. In those 24 deliveries, there were an astonishing 19 dot balls bowled, the most by a bowler in one innings in IPL. He finished with seven wickets at an economy rate of 6.45.
What does Zaheer think of the suggestion that he’s past his prime? “It is the media’s job to write. They are doing their job, and I am doing my job. I know it is over only when I say it is over. Ultimately, when I do well, they have to write good things about me too. Playing cricket gives me a high, and I am going to continue to do so till I feel I can do it right.”
Clearly, the bowlers are ageing like fine wine, but batsmen may find it more difficult to keep up with the pace. “As a bowler, it is easy to train when you are having a break between tournaments, you can ring up local teams and ask if they want net bowlers, or you can just go down to the nets and practice by trying to hit targets placed on the wicket,” explains Hogg. “As for a batsmen trying to find net bowlers between tournaments to keep up your skills, it is a lot harder.
“Also, as you get older, your reflexes start to deteriorate, which affects batting a lot more because it requires more attention to detail with one’s hand-eye coordination.”
Of course, there’s someone like Michael Hussey. A few days short of his 40th birthday, he came out for Chennai all guns blazing at the business end of the tournament, hitting a vital fifty against Bangalore in the second Qualifier.
Ultimately, a player’s sell-by date in cricket mostly boils down to attitude. For Hogg, who has “never been happier than the last five years”, the secret is simple. It’s about staying fit, setting achievable goals and striving to be the best, he says.
Of course, the likes of Hogg, Nehra and Zaheer won’t be around forever, but their performances this year are a strong reminder that you’re only as old as you feel.
This article appeared in issue 8 of Wisden India Extra. Download your copy here.