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Experience Vs Youth - Does it really matter?

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 For this is a major point of difference between various teams and Australia. And this raises the question of choosing between experience and youth. One of the most argued topic amongst cricket intellectuals. And probably the dodgiest point for various team selectors. And quite clearly, one of the most over-rated factors in world cricket.

 

 It’s a dicey thing to say that experience or youth aren’t big or very determinant factors, but some analysis, and examples such as the one to follow prove pretty much that. Experienced players have stats to argue in their favor. And if their fitness levels are at their best, few could ask for their omission from the team.

 

The reason why Australia’s Martyn enjoyed a berth in such a successful team when players far younger were performing their best in domestic cricket to fight for the same is, well, not actually a mystery. With 13 centuries, 23 half centuries and a career average of 47 decorating his profile, Martyn hardly gave any reason for the selectors to drop him. Irrespective of the age. In the light of this, the case of V.V.S Laxman comes across as being rather unjust. 10 centuries and 27 half-centuries in his bag scored with an average of 43 are pretty much as good as that of Martyn. And it certainly is not like the Indian batting line up is so far superior than the Aussie line up that someone with the same average can’t find a place. But Laxman still gets neglected by Indian selectors on just one stat: his age. Could this attitude be the reason why India still remains out of the first 3 ranks of test playing nations?

 
 Likewise, there is nothing to state that every 32 year old gets picked purely on the count that he is more experienced. Let’s look at an example. Do you remember Mr. Micheal Bevan? Or rather, let me rephrase that. Can you ever forget Bevan? He would come in during situations where survival itself would seem difficult. And out of nowhere, you would see him stealing victory from under his opponent’s noses. Never in the innings would there be any flashy shots. There would be only singles and doubles and a boundary here and there. The end result would be a half century in as many balls and more importantly, a win for Australia. Surprisingly, he ended his cricket career in relative anonymity in the domestic circuit whereas most players of his caliber would end theirs in the spotlight of the international media amidst ‘good byes’ and ‘will miss him’ headlines. Sounds like sacrilege, but stats justify this.
                                                                                                                                             
During the last two years of his international career, Bevan averaged 44 which was far lower than his overall average of 54- clearly, he was on a decline. In the same period, Symonds also had an average of 44 but this was higher than the average he had begun with which was 40. Clearly, he was on the ascent. Add to this the factor that he is a hard-hitter and a handy spinner. So Symonds over-rode Bevan for a place in the side, but not because he was younger than Bevan, but on the sheer weight of his performance and abilities.
 
 
The point could not be clearer. The exuberance of youth, the energy of youth, the wisdom of experience are all, beyond a point, just fancy terms being tossed around. At the end of the day, performance on the field is the ultimate factor, and this performance doesn’t depend on any stereotypes, certainly not any to do with age.                           
 
 
Another example that further proves this is the dropping of Ganguly from the Indian team. He was dropped at the age of 33 on account of poor form, and he was brought back at the age of 34, again, on account of good form. As simple as that, no age related complications. The debate brings to mind the pre-ashes 2005 scenario. The selectors were faced with the question of whether to pick the experienced Thorpe, or the young, promising but yet unproved Pieterson. The selectors took the gamble and it paid off.  But at the end of the day it was still a gamble.
 
 
Now this is the difference between Australia and England. Australian players are picked on the basis of a cultivated sporting culture.  Pietersen has gone on to become a major player for the English cricket team, but not all gambles pay off.

 

There’s a reason why Australia doesn’t indulged in this. Domestic cricket is always the ground to try players and International cricket is a place reserved only for those who have proven their worth repeatedly at the domestic level. This is how cricket is for Australia. The reason they inch above others. Perhaps English Cricket would have gained a lot more from the culture than from the gamble…

 

The legacy of Pollock and Gibbs still continue to rule South African cricket. Although young players have added killer instinct to the team, the two veterans seem to fit very comfortably in the squad and continue to reap success. As a matter of fact, Gibbs’ average has risen to 37.5 as compared to his earlier average of 35. Age did make a difference. But contrary to popular perception, a positive difference. However one may agree that his 50 to 100 conversion rate has dropped considerably, thus bringing his concentration level under speculation. All said, he still manages to give the team more value than what he did earlier. Pollock too may not be as effective as he was, but a mediocre decrease in average from 23 to 26 doesn’t seem to change things a lot, especially given the fact that his average of 26 is better than the averages of most 20- something South African bowlers. Surely, batsmen around the world are yet to face someone who can ably substitute him. The class always triumphs.

 

The debate can continue forever - experienced players will have stats to speak for them, whereas the young players always ought to be given opportunities. But the only point that stands out is that at the end of the day, it is performance that matters, and not age. And Australia seem to have got the formula just right. A culture developed over the years. A domestic build-up which can hardly be shaken. And an attitude that gives weight to performance, and not age. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

 

 



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