December 4, 2012

Longevity in test cricket

The retirement of former Australian Test captain Ricky Ponting from the international stage takes effect from today, Tuesday December 4, the end of the Test series with South Africa.{{more}} Although Australia has more Tests to play during its current cricket season, and there are two upcoming series against “the old enemy”, England, for the coveted Ashes, Ponting has chosen to end his career at the ground where it all started 17 years ago, the WACA in Perth.

In so doing, Ponting is making way for the introduction of a younger player after almost two decades of being the centrepiece of Australia’s batting. At 37, he is one of the oldest players in the game and there have been signs of decline from his very high standards in recent years. His retirement leaves Indian star Sachin Tendulkar, two years his senior, as the longest-serving Test cricketer in the world today.

These two, along with retired West Indies world record-holder, Brian Lara, had dominated international cricket in the nineties and the first decade of the 21st century. Ponting and Tendulkar have plenty to show for their extended careers, being two of the only three batsmen to amass more than 13,000 Test runs. But the latter, like Ponting of late, has been showing signs of ageing, and it can only be a matter of time before he too quits the scene. Tendulkar has been playing at the highest level for the past 23 years.

Long as this may seem, there are others who have lasted longer on the Test stage. Pride of place in this regard goes to the English all-rounder Wilfred Rhodes who passed away in 1973. The left-handed Rhodes had a remarkable career in Test cricket which lasted an incredible 31 years. He still holds the record of being the oldest player to play Test cricket when he turned out for England against the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1930 at the ripe age of 52 years. Rhodes had begun his Test career in the nineteenth century, in 1899, and still holds the record for the most wickets in first-class cricket, 4204, along with just under 40,000 runs at this level.

Tendulkar’s 23-year span in Test cricket has also been outlasted by two other cricketers of the period between the two world wars. The West Indian batting titan, George Headley, last appeared 24 years after his debut in 1930, while the Englishman Frank Woolley’s career was one year longer. Rhodes, Woolley and Headley all had their careers interrupted by World Wars.

Of the post-World War II generation, the great Sir Garfield Sobers played for 20 years at the top tier, one year less than the trio of Bob Simpson (Australia), Imran Khan (Pakistan) and Colin Cowdrey (England). Among Tendulkar’s peers of today, the solid West Indian left-hander, Shiv Chanderpaul, is now in his 18th year of Test cricket. (contributed)