Cricket, anywhere, is never not in crisis. It is forever dangling from a cliff, its temples throbbing from the greed of administrators, its heart aching on account of match-fixing, its face flowing with tears because the Kookaburra ball just doesn't want to swing for more than a few measly overs. It is vital, therefore, that the sport regenerates - that its old guard steps aside, that new careers be allowed to flourish, that fresh ideas take root. This month, the Briefing makes note of cricket's winds of change. Even if, inevitably, all those winds are bringing are Sri Lankan monsoon rains.
Looking out for the youth
No player, no matter how established, can carry on forever, can they? When keen youngsters are knocking on the selectors' door, just waiting for a chance to showcase their skills at the international level, is it not borderline morally bankrupt to keep hanging on? Dwayne Bravo knows this. That's why this month he took the courageous decision to retire from international cricket, in order to "leave the international arena for the next generation of players" in his own words.
It is typical of Bravo to not make a big deal of the fact that, actually, he has gone further than most to ensure the international arena is wide open for young talent. Having last played an international in 2016, he has heroically refused to take up a spot in the West Indies side, despite the fact he was in the absolute prime of his career. Even before 2016, Bravo had frequently refused to play for West Indies, leaving himself with no option but to take up massive dollar contracts with franchise T20 teams instead. Every man has a cross to bear. You can only hope that at least now, this clutch of young West Indies players will stop squandering the gift of having their best senior cricketers selflessly earning millions of dollars elsewhere.
A great man's succession plan
Rangana Herath, meanwhile, has gone about his retirement in a different fashion. Having not had a stable place in the Sri Lanka team in his youth, it was not until his mid-30s that Herath truly began to hit his peak as a bowler. In not announcing his retirement until his 41st year, Herath helped ensure that Sri Lanka won't be left without adequate replacement, as they were when Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara exited. It's true that Dilruwan Perera, the Test team's second spinner, has been a capable bowler for some time. But Herath waited patiently until Dilruwan, now 36, became slow in the field, and started to sport a little paunch, before he felt he could truly trust him to be a replacement. Herath retires after the first Test against England, and as he does so, he will no doubt give strict instructions that Dilruwan himself must under no circumstances think of retiring from Tests until he is sure that Sri Lanka's next generation of fingerspin-bowling uncles is ready to waddle proudly into the limelight.
When senior players retire, younger men become the new seniors, though that doesn't mean they stop being daft. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq - who are trying to fill the void left by Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's retirements - produced the comedy dismissal of the month. During the second Test against Australia, thinking an outside edge off Azhar's bat had gone to the boundary, they met in the middle of the pitch for a chat. The ball, though, had pulled up short of the rope, and a gleeful Australia completed the run-out with the batsmen mid-pitch - Azhar and Shafiq wearing the kind of surprised and injured looks that Misbah and Younis would have reserved for more momentous occasions, such as being backstabbed by the board or being sacked as captain.
The long lost
Now many of our readers may be too young to remember this, but very long ago, weird as it may seem, the small nation of New Zealand - those islands east of Australia - actually played cricket at a high level! Look, you probably think I'm pulling your leg, but it's true - they were surprisingly decent until they fell off the cricket map all of a sudden, for reasons lost in the mists of time. But guess what? Apparently they have named a new squad for matches against Pakistan in November, which means that they are back. Far as my memory serves, they are led by this guy called Kayne Williams, who is expected to sport a white beard - our info states he has sprouted a grey hair for every run Joe Root and Virat Kohli have scored in his absence. Also in the team is a batsman called Rose Tailor, who had to have surgery to remove a growth obscuring his eyesight just before New Zealand stopped playing, but whose eyesight has deteriorated again just from pure old age. Having more teams playing cricket is generally a good idea, but personally I'm yet to be convinced that bringing back a retro team is the direction the sport needs to take right now.
Then there are some great players who have led their teams to so much greatness over the course of great careers that the language we mortals use to describe their cricketing twilight ought to reflect the great feats they have achieved, not to mention their resplendent and undeniable greatness. MS Dhoni, for example, who we know is absolutely the best finisher ever, has apparently attracted extremely faint whispers - which could just be the rustling of the wind, or the legs of someone's trousers rubbing together, to be honest - that he is now a shadow… diminished… slightly non-vintage version of his former self, which I will remind you is not saying much, since he was the smartest and most clinical lower-middle order batsman-keeper ever. The selectors said that in keeping him out of the T20 series against West Indies and Australia they were only "resting" him. Some people think it would be better if he was "rested" all the way until the next ODI World Cup, and then rested forever after that. Not me, obviously.
No month passes in cricket without wisdom from India's coach, and this month Ravi Shastri reserved his choicest praise for 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw, whose outstanding batting in the Tests against West Indies suggested he could be one of the young stars to propel cricket into the future. Shastri didn't hold back: "There's a bit of Sachin there," he said. "There's a bit of Viru there," he roared. And then, because Indian greats are not enough, "when he walks, there's a bit of Lara there," Shastri boomed. But why did you stop there, Shaz? A bit of Viv, the way he adjusts his box, no? A bit of Federer, the way he brushes his hair out of his face? A bit of Mandela, the way he speaks? Disappointing that you let these opportunities slip, frankly.
Next month in the Briefing:
- "A bit of Tiger Woods, the way he looks at wom…" Shastri stops himself mid-sentence.
- The sublime MS Dhoni honoured with prestigious lifetime sabbatical from cricket by India selectors, as reward for his absolutely unquestionable place in the India team.
- "Smile with us. Dream with us. Cuddle us." The Australia cricket team unveil new tagline following cultural review.