Forty-somethings make Twenty20 their own
Insert your cliché here. Age is merely a state of mind. You can't buy experience. Forty is the new 30. You never lose it.
All these adages were to be tested in the Big Bash League when so many retirees signed up for the tournament.
Shane Warne was a major coup, but it was not entirely unexpected. Despite being 42, his signing for the Melbourne Stars came on the back of regular appearances in the IPL for the Rajasthan Royals. Likewise, Matthew Hayden had been playing for Chennai Super Kings as recently as the 2010 Champions League, and had long been interested in representing the Brisbane Heat.
But when it was announced that Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill, both 40, both without any professional cricket at all in over three years, would represent the Perth Scorchers and the Sydney Sixers respectively, the legitimacy of this Big Bash League came under heavy scrutiny. Questions were being raised as to why a highly successful state-based Big Bash had been scrapped for a franchise-based competition that would feature a bunch of "has-beens" looking for a superannuation boost. It was akin to HBO axing Sex and the City at the peak of its popularity for reruns of The Golden Girls.
And yet it is the two 40-year-olds, Hogg and MacGill, who have been the headline acts.
Hogg's tournament has been remarkable, extraordinary in reality. Between March of 2008 and November 2010 the left-arm wristspinner had played no competitive cricket whatsoever until he returned for his club side, Willetton, in the WACA Grade Twenty20 competition. The competitive urges were not satisfied enough after two games, and he returned to play in the two-day competition in February 2011.
Six games later he was back on the WACA ground, playing in the A-grade final, having taken five wickets in the elimination final, and made 144 in the semi. His opponents in the decider, Subiaco-Floreat, had faced the incumbent Test spinner Michael Beer in their semi, and to a man were unanimous in declaring Hogg the far more challenging opponent of the two.
Less than 10 months later Hogg has been picked to play T20 cricket for Australia. His form in the BBL has been phenomenal. Going into the final, his 12 wickets at 13.50 are eye-catching enough, putting him alongside Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, James Faulkner, and Mitchell Starc as the most damaging bowlers in the tournament. But his economy rate has been incredible. No player has come close to Hogg's effectiveness in conceding less than six runs an over.
The figures are astonishing, yet Hogg has never had any physical restrictions. Even at 40, he has been one of the fittest and most agile players in the Scorchers side, his fielding still an outstanding feature of his game.
The MacGill story is a different one, and yet he has been just as successful as Hogg. MacGill retired in May 2008, mid-Test-tour in the Caribbean, mentally and physically finished. His knees had given way. Carpal-tunnel syndrome was affecting his wrist. Touring had taken its toll. Cricket was a past life and MacGill was ready for a new one.
Yet he returned to New South Wales grade cricket in November 2011 for Sydney University. After four T20s and three club matches, his old mate Stuart Clark gave him a job with the Sydney Sixers.
There was trepidation on opening night against the Brisbane Heat. But 2 for 21 alleviated any doubts MacGill, or others, may have had about his place in the Sixers side.
While the figures are not as eye-catching as Hogg's - MacGill's six wickets have cost 24.33 apiece while he operated at 6.95 runs per over - MacGill's fingerprints have been all over the Sixers' key wins, as his mastery, guile, and skill proving too good in the big moments.
He removed Hayden and Brendon McCullum to set the first game up, and his coup de grace was against Hobart in the semi-final. The tournament's leading scorer, Travis Birt, held the key to the match on his broad bat. MacGill unlocked him with the artistry of a safe cracker, removing him with a wrong'un that would have caused even Shane Warne to tip his hat.
MacGill, like Hogg, has had so successful a return that he has nominated and been picked up for the Bangladesh T20 Premier League.
Both men have been stars of tournament, but they have not overshadowed the biggest star of all, Warne. The king was expected to perform. We knew he could write his own scripts; only, this time he got to tell us what would happen before it actually happened.
At 42 he is as fit as he has ever been, and not surprisingly is still bowling with tremendous control and confidence. Warne may not have the mystery trickery he once possessed, but his powers of deduction, and his ability to break down a batman's technique or tactics in a short space of time have never been greater.
The special part about this year's BBL is that Warne has taken us through it ball-by-ball with live in-the-run commentary that has been as insightful as brilliant.
Hayden, too, has commentated while playing, giving frank and honest assessments of his opponents and cricket generally. His candour has been refreshing in a world where cricketers must tip-toe diplomatically across every single contentious issue.
Hayden may have a little less hair these days but he is no less intimidating with bat in hand, and while he was not as dominant has his three former Australian team-mates, he was extremely competitive.
Which begs the question, is 40 the new 30?
Thirty has been a taboo age for cricketers in recent times and yet as these four greats will attest, age is no barrier to success. Michael Hussey's entire Test career has been played out after his 30th birthday. Ricky Ponting has more Test centuries and fifties after 30 than he did before, at a better strike rate, while averaging barely half a run less. Both are getting ever closer to the big four-zero mark, and though they have been doubted through periods of poor form, they have proved beyond doubt they are still currently irreplaceable in the Australian Test line-up.
With four forty-somethings having dominated the Big Bash, it is worth asking: are we too hasty to cast elder statesmen aside, or is it simply an indictment of the younger players coming through?
Whichever way you look at it, the competition has been far better for the presence of the senior statesmen. You can't buy experience, but you can buy experienced players, and in this instance they have been worth every cent.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth