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

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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