Presenting an all New column on the World of Sport that transcends traditional reportage; Nostalgia, Emotion, Passion, Tribute, News, Analysis and more with ‘SportsMeat’ by Babu Kalyanpur.
Back at the turn of the last century, there was a gentleman with an enormous girth and a billowing beard who took guard on a cricket ground in England. Unfortunately, the ball hit the stumps and dislodged the bails.
The gent just picked up the bails, looked around nonchalantly, put it back on to the stumps and continued as if nothing had happened. The gent was none other than Dr W G Grace, the pioneer of modern cricket. The good doctor, 100 kg and still counting then, was unique not only as a cricketer but also for being one of the longest serving in the game.
Dr Grace played cricket for 44 years. Born in 1948, the Doctor finished top level cricket in 1908 – which makes him around 60. And legend has it that he played all other minor cricket even until the age of 66, a year before his death. Despite the bulk and the beard, Dr Grace was a superb batsman and an agile fielder who took some great catches.
And just the other day, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, both 35, plundered the English bowling to bring victory for India.
In Melbourne, tennis star Roger Federer, now 35, dazzled the courts with his deft displays. Women’s champion Serena Williams, also 35, is still blazing a winning trail all over the world. There are basketball stars well into their 30s. Golfers even play beyond their 50s..
All this brings into focus a very important question – does age really matter in Sport?
This is a dilemma often faced by sportspersons all through their career. Once a player crosses 30, his skills begin to wane seems to be a popular notion. Most critics are ready to write off sportspersons once they reach this age. The knives are sharpened as a bad performance here or a poor run there is put down to dimming reflexes and growing wrinkles. Until a few decades or so, this often held true.
Many players thought about their sports afterlife or pensions once they reached 35.
An Indian cricketer a few decades ago was more bothered about the crease on his trousers than fielding the ball. Natural thickening with age always had the addition bonus of a belly which obstructed physical movement.
However, today’s sportspersons are conscious of their body and mental state. With fitness levels now reaching new highs, sportspersons are almost as sharp as they were when they started. Smarted, targeted medical attention and treatment, coupled with modern techniques have all helped players increase their longevity. Diets are planned to keep the player fit at all times. Psychologists are hired to look after the players’ mental health.
The world of sports is adjusting to this new factor.
Pakistan’s cricket captain Misbah ul Haq is 42 and still ready for the count. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is shining for Manchester United. If you can still play, you play. That is the new mantra creeping into sports. Legend has it that Dr Grace was once given out leg before. But the Doctor refused to budge. He walked up to the umpire and said, “They have come to watch me play, not you umpire.”
No wonder he could still put his younger compatriots to shame even at age 66.