July 2, 2009

Grand exits

Men who quit in style, like Younis Khan did with Twenty20, making people ask why as opposed to why not

Bill Ponsford
The man the Daily News described as "the most remarkable and the most heart-breaking scoring-machine ever invented" was hit around 50 times on the body in the three Tests he played during the Bodyline series. Ponsford was eventually dropped, but not before he scored 85 in Adelaide, an innings in which he repeatedly and deliberately took blows on his body to avoid giving catches to the leg-side field. There was one final fling left. On the 1934 tour of England, he featured in two memorable partnerships with Don Bradman. At Headingley, with Australia 39 for 3, he added a then record 388 runs with Bradman before being dismissed hit-wicket for 181. In the final Test they added 451 runs for the second wicket before Ponsford fell, hit-wicket again, for 266, his highest Test score.

He averaged 94.83 on that tour and returned to play a Testimonial match before making a surprise announcement to retire. He said: "I am feeling the strain of the last tour. I am 34, and when you get to that age you start to lose your keenness… Test cricket has become too serious. It is not a game anymore but a battle... I can remember when it was all quite different to what it is now. I do not want to refer to that 'Bodyline' business. I am out of all that. Cricket was a different game before Bodyline. Naturally I have a tinge of regret, but it is better to go out of cricket before being dropped."

Sunil Gavaskar
Gavaskar did everything in style. He scripted a great beginning, with a sensational series in the West Indies, and ended his career in style too. As a captain, he ended his stint by leading India to a win in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia. And as a batsman he finished his Test career with a jaw-dropping 96 against Pakistan on a treacherous track in Bangalore. There was just one thing left in his career - an ODI hundred. He scored a breezy ton against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup before retiring a game later.

Neil Harvey
Harvey was, at 19, the youngest Australian to score a century. He made six hundreds in his first 13 Tests. Known for several gems on sticky and treacherous pitches, he ended his career in a similarly remarkable fashion. In his last Test series he hit a hundred in his penultimate game, and took six catches in his last to equal the then world record, and retired as the most capped Australian player. Between those two Tests, he scored 231 not out in less than five hours against South Australia, his last Sheffield Shield game.

Len Hutton
One of the greatest England batsmen ever, Hutton led England to a dream 3-1 triumph in his last Ashes as captain. England lost the first Test, but Hutton used his young fast bowler Frank Tyson shrewdly, asking him to reduce the run-up, and won three Tests in a row. He would have probably won the fourth, but rain denied him. He hit 80 in the Adelaide Test to earn a crucial victory. Soon he retired, citing his bad back. Like Hutton, Bradman too led a successful Ashes triumph before calling it a day.

Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh
In January 1984 three Australian legends, Chappell, Lillee and Marsh retired to leave a void that Australia struggled to fill. Chappell had gone into the Test against Pakistan with 6928 runs, 68 shy of Bradman's then record aggregate by an Australian. "If you're playing for records, you shouldn't be playing," Chappell told his mates. "Catches and runs are not that important." Chappell went on to hit a hundred in his last innings, one among a select few Australian batsmen to make a hundred in his first and last Tests. Twenty-four hours later Lillee moved from 347 wickets to 351, and announced his retirement. Rumours spread that Marsh would also quit, and during the post-match celebrations he effectively did so, announcing that he was not available for the tour of the Caribbean two months later. "Why now, Rod?" Marsh was asked. "'Because all my mates have gone," was his reply.

Imran Khan
The man Younis Khan kept referring to during Pakistan's recent World Twenty20 triumph left the world stage in style. He repeatedly came out of retirements, but the 1992 World Cup was to be his last. He entered the tournament under severe pressure: he knew he had to win to get the money for his dream project, a cancer hospital. The campaign started disastrously as Pakistan looked to be going out of the tournament early; but Imran charged his men ahead, and in the end announced his retirement a proud man, holding the cup aloft.

Bill Woodfull
Woodfull was the captain who lost the Ashes in that Bodyline series, where he scored just 305 runs at an average of 33.89, but he batted for over 20 hours in all, more than any other Australian. The courageous and morally upright man, who refused to deploy retaliatory tactics despite being urged by several team-mates to do so, toured England the next season to win back the Ashes. He retired immediately, and in a joint testimonial with Ponsford, he hit a hundred, and even took a wicket - his only one in first-class cricket - to retire on a high. In November 1934, he declined a knighthood, saying, "Had I been awarded it for being an educationalist, then I would have accepted it. But under no circumstances would I accept it for playing cricket."

Mike Brearley
Brearley handed the captaincy to his protégé Ian Botham in 1980, and soon lost his place in the XI. However, Botham had a horror run, eventually quitting the captaincy in 1981, ahead of the third Test in that year's Ashes series. Brearley was drafted in as captain, and he led a remarkable revival, winning the Test and then the next two games to take the Ashes 3-1. Botham performed stupendously in the series after he stepped down from the captaincy, bolstering the image of Brearley as the man who got the best out of Botham. Brearley retired after that series with the distinction of never having lost a game as captain in 19 home Tests. In 1982, he led Middlesex to their fourth County Championship under his captaincy before retiring from the game.

Roy Fredericks
"People often use 'guts' about sportsmen. Whenever I hear it, I think of Roy Fredericks," Clive Lloyd once said. Fredericks, remembered best for his astonishing counterattacking hundred, full of trademark hooks, on a pacy Perth track against Lillee and Thomson, announced his retirement in 1978. He went on to become a sports minister in Forbes Burnham's left-wing Guyanese government. Five years later, he came out of retirement, aged 40, to play for Guyana. He batted twice, scoring 103 against Trinidad & Tobago and 217 against Jamaica before retiring again. It was said that he couldn't walk for a week after those twin efforts. Wisden wrote, "Fredericks was one of the last players who not only relished facing the best bowlers, but looked as though he did."

Sourav Ganguly
Ganguly was the most fascinating modern Indian cricketer. You either loved him or hated him. Hounded out by the man whom he had recommended as a coach, Ganguly refused to fade away. Much to the surprise of his detractors but not his fans, he made a comeback in 2006-07 against South Africa. Some felt that that the bouncy South African wickets would end his career once and for all. He finished that series as the highest run-getter, and made himself a regular in the team again. He finished the next series in England as the second-highest scorer. After an indifferent series against Murali and Mendis in Sri Lanka, and prior to the home series against Australia, he announced his retirement. After a century in Mohali, he hit 85 in the first innings of his final Test, and like Bradman, fell for a duck in his final innings.

Gary Kirsten
Many felt Kirsten, South Africa's great opener, had one more year left in him when he decided to retire after the tour of New Zealand in 2003-04. He scored a ton in the first Test of the series - his 99th - and ended his career with a typically gritty 76 in the final game, to help South Africa tie the series. After his dismissal, he walked back to an emotional dressing room. Herschelle Gibbs was the most disconsolate figure, trying to come to terms with the fact that his opening partner, his mentor and father figure was not going to walk out with him to bat ever again. Kirsten was asked to reconsider his decision, but he cited a personal commitment to his wife that he would never play again. Like Kirsten, his former team-mate, Fanie de Villiers too retired on a high, taking 6 for 23 in his last Test to bundle out Pakistan. He later said that he retired as he had learnt that he wouldn't be a part of the next tour to Australia. "Before that last Test in Pakistan, I learnt I would not be going to Australia because they had selected Makhaya Ntini. I also had my family to think of. I have a deaf little girl, and she needed her dad at home."

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo