Pringle: The Golden Oldies keep on giving
Derek Pringle gives an insight into how sheer experience can pay huge dividends in a young man’s game
It is still early in the season and some players remain as green as the pitches.Yet, have you noticed how many of the counties’ averages are being headed, not by the young turks, but by the wise heads of old campaigners.
With knowledge now available even to the callow at the click of a mouse or the jab of a button, these 40-somethings offer something that simply isn’t Google-able – experience.
You can’t ask a smartphone how to bat against Tim Bresnan on a greentop or bowl against Kumar Sangakkara when his eye is in. Well, you can but don’t expect to receive definitive instructions. Cricket’s senior servants, on the other hand, know what to do and it is being revealed in the numbers, at least for the moment.
At present, this demographic’s star performer is 40-year old Darren Stevens, of Kent. Not only is he topping the county’s batting averages with 296 runs at 59.2, he is leading the bowling too with 22 wickets at 11.5. That is over a third of all wickets taken by Kent who have won their first three Championship games.
Most players who start out with aspirations to bowl and bat tend to end up with the emphasis on their batting, but Stevens has turned his medium pace swingers and seamers into a potent, wicket-taking force.
If his lack of pace makes it all seem a bit innocuous Stevens knows from experience how best to exploit the conditions on any given day. It is a data set which includes how an opponent plays; whether or not the umpire is a giver of lbws (and whether you need to bowl from close to the stumps to get them); and the ideal length to bowl for the conditions. He also knows how to best exploit the slope at Canterbury, the county’s home ground and where two of this season’s victories have occurred.
To quote Matthew Hoggard (who was actually being disingenuous when he said it), many people assume that bowlers just run up and “wang it down”. Not those in possession of the best and wisest heads. The balls they send down are pre-programmed with deliberate intent and while not everything is guaranteed to go to plan, a lot does, as Stevens has shown. As one wily seam bowler once put it –“bowling success at this time of the season is down to the three Ns: nous, (k) nowledge and the nip backer.”
Seniority does not always equate to good sense nor experience to equanimity as Charlie Shreck, Leicestershire’s veteran fast bowler, recently revealed. Shreck, who will be 40 next birthday, lost his cool while bowling in a friendly match against Loughborough University.
His outburst against a student player, Hasim Azad, cost his county a 16-point penalty as well as a £5,000 fine as it was added to misdemeanours already accrued.
The senior player as examplesetter used to be taken for granted 25 years ago when most dressingrooms had at least two or three players pushing 40 who could take on the role of senior pro. But financial incentives to counties brought in a decade ago by the ECB, for playing England-qualified players under the age of 23 (initiated to counter the rise in numbers of Kolpak players), saw the creation of young dressingrooms with the understandable consequence that some ran amok.
Surrey was one of those which spiralled out of control, though that has since been remedied largely by the acquisition of senior players like Vikram Solanki, though he is now retired. Their latest signing in that vein has been Sangakkara, one of Sri Lanka’s greatest players and a man who will be 40 in October.
Recently retired from Tests, Sangakkara is still motivated to churn out runs in county cricket. So far this season he is averaging 89.5 in Division One for Surrey with two hundreds. With cricketers like him around younger players cannot help but watch and learn, not just about how he scores runs and constructs an innings, but how he prepares himself on a daily basis.
Unless you sweat natural talent, and only a rare few do, process and performance are closely linked.
Durham also have a fine role model in Paul Collingwood, who still puts his 40-year old body through a punishing fitness regime. If his figures are not quite as eye-catching as some of his fellow quadragenarians around the counties, he is currently third in Durham’s batting averages and fourth in the bowling, he remains a pivotal figure – not bad for someone who has never shied away from enjoying a good night out.
There may be those who, while experienced and high-achieving, are simply too quirky to be a reliable role model to the younger generation. At 42, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is the oldest player in county cricket this season, but he has already installed himself at the top of Lancashire’s batting averages, albeit after just two innings.
Few coaches would advocate emulating his crab-like style in which he shuffles across his crease to play the ball later than a Southern Rail train. They would, however, want others to tap into what motivates Chanderpaul and drives his tenacity, though that might be easier said than done given his famous reluctance for small talk.
Even older than Chanderpaul (by six months), but yet to play county cricket, is Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s soon-to-be-retired captain. Misbah has led Pakistan well, and from the front, since taking over his country’s captaincy six years ago. Incredibly, he is still doing so, having recently top-scored for his team with 99 in the first Test against the West Indies in Kingston.
Part of Misbah’s wish list, post Pakistan, is to play county cricket, an ambition that would have been scoffed at five years ago. But his continuing excellence, as well as that of the senior citizens mentioned here, make it a distinct possibility. Age, it seems, unlike one’s designation in the batting order, is just a number.
If his lack of pace makes it all seem a bit innocuous, Stevens knows from experience how best to eploit the conditions on any given day
Still motivated: Surrey’s Kumar Sangakkara
Still pivotal: Durham’s Paul Collingwood
Still scoring: Shiv Chanderpaul bats for Lancashire