TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SIX members of the South African team who played in the second test against New Zealand at Centurion last month were on the wrong side of 30. Only two were under 25.
Is this cause for concern, or is blooding talent a worry too many for a team trying to balance winning and transforming?
Or was what happened when Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith were all removed from the equation in the space of two years as a cautionary tale?
How old is too old to play international cricket, and when should the age alarm for players sound for selectors?
“It depends on so many factors, including the role of the player,” sports physician Jon Patricios said.
“Obviously a fast bowler is going to differ from a middle order batsman or a spin bowler.
“It also depends on the conditioning of the athlete and a lot on how that athlete has managed his career, how they’ve periodised themselves and avoided burnout and fatigue and staleness, and taken time away from the game.
“It depends, too, on when that player came into the game. Some players might reach the the highest level relatively late, like Mike Hussey, and have quite an extended career.
“Someone who starts touring internationally at 20 might be burned out by 26.
“Sometimes we discard our players too soon and we don’t manage them well enough.
“Jacques Kallis is a great example of how you can get the best out of a long career.
“I wouldn’t say a team that has five or six 30-year-olds is at a disadvantage to team that has five or six 20-year-olds.”
Hussey was 30 when he played the first of his 79 tests for Australia. Kallis played his last match for South Africa at 39, ending 18-and-a-half years as an international.
Peter Kirsten is another member of the ageless club. Isolation meant he didn’t make his test debut, which followed him starring in the 1992 World Cup, a month before his 37th birthday.
Kirsten made his first-class debut at 18 and was three months shy of 42 when he scored his last century at that level.
“You should be at your peak from your mid-20s to 32, or even longer than that,” Kirsten said. “For me it was different because I was still hungry – we hadn’t played test cricket.
“I can understand why test cricketers retire at around 35 or 36 these days, but that was when I started my test career.
“I’d always kept myself fit and that was important. As I got older I wasn’t physically affected, except when I started picking up calf injuries at around 36 or 37.
“You go on because you love it and because you’re batting so well. In my case I just felt really good.”
Kirsten concurred with Patricios about the dangers of tossing players aside when they still had plenty left in the tank.
“If you keep yourself physically fit, and because you get better mentally, it’s a good recipe to pick older players,” Kirsten said.
“Selectors who discard the oldies prematurely should think again. Try and keep them in as long as you can, especially for test cricket.
“For ODIs and T20s you’ve got to be fit. You’ve also got to be fit for test cricket but it’s less intense in physical terms.”
But they differed on whether modern phenomena like the Indian Premier League (IPL) would make players want to stick around for longer or call it quits sooner than before.
“The IPL has probably created a situation where careers might be shortened, but because of the amount of money that players earn they can probably afford that,” Patricios said.
For Kirsten: “The IPL will probably lengthen a player’s career because of the money available.”
Not that any cricketer is Peter Pan. Not even AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla or Dale Steyn.
“They’re going to be very difficult to replace,” Kirsten said, echoing every cricketminded South African.
Patricios saw that challenge differently: “If there was no conveyor belt of players coming through then you start hanging on to players, and that would be a worry.”
Or not. Of the South African team that beat England at Lord’s in August 2012 to top the test rankings, five were over 30 and no-one was younger than 27.