That time comes for all - no free rides
The big names of the cricket world are still big drawcards at the Indian Premier League. A lot of the Indian public have fond memories of the iconic figures of Indian - and world - cricket, and will still pay money to watch them play another game of cricket - especially as the fans would have thought that they had watched these heroes playing their last game a while ago, or may well have missed that "final game", as the case may be.
All this is evidenced by the way that Eden Gardens fills up to capacity on a day that Sourav Ganguly is coming to town to play for Pune Warriors against his former team, Kolkata Knight Riders. The buzz around the city of Kolkata in the lead-up to such a match is noticeable and it is interesting to talk to the locals and hear their views on legendary players such as Ganguly still being in the IPL and continuing to play.
Most, if not all, in Kolkata would still go and watch him, but many will also say that his time is up. They say that their wish is that he does well one more time when they are watching but that their team, Kolkata, still wins in the end. The dilemma is not only faced by Indian icons but former international stars too; the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Rahul Dravid are still out there trying to reach the heights that they set as standards which subsequent generations have struggled to uphold.
In season five of the IPL, the older retired players have somewhat struggled to cope with the demands required of them in terms of performance. The standard of the tournament has continued to improve over the years with more and more being asked of the young Indian players as well. It is however a fight against the years for the older players as the reflexes get slower and the body gets a little less agile. Experience is invaluable but knowing what to do in a situation is quite different from actually doing it.
Whilst the icon status is still important to the franchise owners, it seems to be less of a focus, now that all the franchises are well established. The issue has become about making sure there is more of a concerted effort to win games and get into a position to win the tournament. No longer can players expect free rides on their reputation. Even captains are not safe from being dropped. They must justify their place in the team and prove they ought to be in the playing eleven. Whilst they may still get more chances to do so than the next member of the franchise, the axe does loom for them too if good performances are not forthcoming.
The overseas internationals are in the same boat too and must perform or be content to sit on the sidelines as the action continues out on the park.
There is always that delicate time in a player's life when he has to decide whether it is worth fighting for his place or better to move on as his time has come and gone. At that time, there are many forces at play. First, there's the not so small matter of admitting to himself that he is past it. The fighting quality that made him such a good player tends to get in the way here, as the mind will still say "you can do it, you can prove them all wrong again, and you are not finished."
The mentoring role is one that is still available to those whose minds are willing but whose flesh is no longer able, because age sure does catch up with everybody.