We were told T20 was a young man’s game. You need the power to hit the ball into the stands. You need the fast-twitch fibres for explosive bursts of speed. You need to be fleet of foot because every run needs to be cut off.
Someone forgot to tell that to the IPL 2022 players, though. The tournament began with the 40-plus MS Dhoni coming in and belting a fifty, and the tone was set. Reaching halfway into the tournament now, the man who has one of the strongest claims to being the standout player is Dinesh Karthik, all of 36 years old.
Till a month ago, nobody – except for Karthik himself possibly – would have pencilled him in as part of India’s plans for the T20 World Cup. Now, nobody – and perhaps Karthik is again the exception because he’s learned not to take anything for granted – can make a squad without having his name front and centre.
Karthik has done for Royal Challengers Bangalore what was thought impossible: fill the AB de Villiers sized hole. A 36-year-old doing the role a 38-year-old was the best in the world at is a notch for Youngistaan, I suppose.
Compared to them, South African David Miller looks spring chickenish at just 32 years old. That’s until you realise that in Miller’s team Gujarat Titans, captain Hardik Pandya is a ‘veteran’ at 28 years old. Miller has been turning the clock back one clean bat swing at a time.
Age is warped in sport. In life, when you’re 20 years old, the business of getting sloshed, impressing potential partners, and figuring out the minimum study time required so that the bulk can be devoted to doing the first two things – is perfectly acceptable way to be. In sport, if you’re 20 and you aren’t smashing everyone in your peer group, you need to think of alternate careers. At which point you might want to make up for a lost time by illuminating your insides with various liquids.
In life, if you’re 30 and you’re doing well professionally, you’re an up-and-comer. If you’re not doing well, there’s still a lot of time to catch up. In sport, you may be doing well at 30, but your prime has upped and come already. If you’re notdoing well at 30, you need to brush up on language skills to cadge a job as a commentator at least.
IPL 2022 has turned that upside down, however. Karthik has been expertly deployed by Royal Challengers Bangalore: coming in to bat before the 14th over only if five wickets are lost, and there’s little batting talent left to send in ahead of him. If wickets are in hand, he’s sent in whenever a batter is out, regardless of batting position. And he’s responded by smashing runs at a strike rate of over 200, i.e. more than two runs per ball. He’s batted five times and been out only once. He has hit 14 sixes and 18 fours in 94 balls faced, which means every third ball he faces goes either to the boundary or over it. It’s a frankly ridiculously good level of batting.
Miller has flourished in a franchise where he’s been given the security of a starting XI spot, and he’s brought with it a game that’s been worked on. He could always hit pace bowlers all over the ground; he’s now a lot more confident against spin too.
Even Yuzvendra Chahal, who’s comfortably the highest wicket-taker in the tournament so far, will be 32 years old in three months.
If any more old men start playing leading roles, the IPL may as well rebrand itself as Bollywood Lite. It had been mooted as ‘cricketainment’ when it began 14 years ago, but no one would have imagined it would follow the entertainment bit in this manner.
The young and the restless will still make waves; of course, they will. But the old men are serving reminders of what they still have to offer. If still, older men start starring, then we’ll have competition for the parliament. And judging from the leadership skills and decision making shown under pressure, that might be quite fantastic for the country.