Changing of the guard - age before beauty
Reflecting on the climax to the premier league at the weekend I couldn’t help being struck by a sense that this was the end of an era or perhaps a changing of the old guard.
The word ‘old’ in my last sentence was not put there by accident as this season Manchester United’s reliance on their ageing greats has been well documented.
In Sir Alex’s defence he did try to replace the then retired Paul Scholes, Inter’s Wesley Sneijder was courted without success and Tom Cleverly tried to fill the void until injury curtailed his season. Eventually Fergie found the perfect replacement for Paul Scholes...Paul Scholes! While I’m not in any way suggesting that Man Utd are in terminal decline it is clear that the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand cannot go on forever.
In the same way international cricket has had its empires which have risen and declined in similar circumstances. Possibly the best example of this is the great West Indies team of the 80’s, with their formidable pace quartet of Marshall, Holding, Garner and Roberts not to mention later Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop laying waste to all comers with the Windies remaining unbeaten in tests for fifteen years, including the famous back to back “blackwash” series against their old colonial masters England.
However, by the turn of the new millennium all of those quicks had been put out to pasture. The West Indies went looking for the next generation of fast bowlers only to find that the conveyor belt had seized up. What’s interesting is that all of the above mentioned bowlers played Test cricket for at least a decade and perhaps more tellingly all retired when well into their thirties, indeed Walsh and Ambrose were thirty six and thirty seven respectively when they finally hung up the boots.
Did the West Indies pick these players for too long and therefore led to the Windies ‘skipping’ a generation? Or was the talent never there to replace the ageing greats and they had no choice but to play on. It’s a question worth posing.
It’s also a question worth posing in relation to the local cricket scene. Many section one teams have relied on the same band of ageing greats over a decade or more.
The McBrines of Donemana, ‘Decker’ at Limavady and the Gillespies of Strabane are the most obvious which spring to mind.
Indeed, it would be interesting to discover how many over forties are regulars in Section one? While its hard to argue when your team is still winning trophies, the fact is that in cricket as in business there is no standing still, as there is always those who are progressing, others who are evolving.
In saying that great players sometimes recognise themselves when it is time to go, as in the case of Adam Gilchrist the great Australian Wicketkeeper/Batsman, who was asked at the post match press conference after his retirement when had he taken the decision to retire. Gilchrist answered “(in reference to a dropped catch off Brett Lee of Laxman) in the time the ball left my gloves to the time it hit the ground.”