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The healing powers of the IPL

Look, for instance, at the miraculous recoveries made by Saha, Uthappa, Tambe, Gauti and Mitch

James Marsh
Mitchell Johnson salutes his five-wicket haul, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 2nd day, December 27, 2013

"Watch me turn this ball into a weapon of mass destruction"  •  Getty Images

For many years humans have been in thrall to the idea that there exists an elixir that can restore lost vitality. As such, the world swooned when renaissance explorer Juan Ponce de León claimed to have discovered the fountain of youth in - a little ironically, given its present demographics - what is now Florida. To this day, around five million people a year make the pilgrimage to Lourdes in the French Alps in the hope its holy waters will cure their illnesses, an act of blind faith many believe on a par with backing England's ODI top order to score at more than 5 an over in the Powerplay.
Cricketers usually take a less spiritual route to battling against the ravages of time, often via various cosmetic enhancements. The former England captain Graham Gooch scored over 67,000 professional runs and once played an innings of such lone-gun brilliance it could retrospectively be labelled Buttleresque, yet perhaps his most trail-blazing effort was in the field of artificial hair implants. Although the Essex stalwart kept the rest of his body youthful by famously jogging up and down tour-hotel stairwells, when his crown started to look balder than a fifth-day Lahore wicket, Gooch dead-batted away public ridicule to try out an innovative enhancement process. This courageous step paved the way for fellow players from Michael Vaughan to Shane Warne to undergo the procedure, though this male-grooming trend has since led to the latter being dogged by persistent allegations of face-tampering and cheek-fixing.
For on-field healing properties, however, look no further than the IPL, which has recently rescued the greying career prospects of a number of receding players. Take Gautam Gambhir, for instance. So long the imperious admiral to Sehwag's carefree pirate at the top of India's order, Gambhir suffered a substantial loss of form towards the end of 2012 and start of 2013, which saw him lose his place to the thrusting, irrepressible Shikhar Dhawan. Now, on the back of his IPL performances, Kolkata's winning captain has returned to the Test squad for the tour of England, although to look at his perpetually gloomy disposition you'd think he had instead just been named FIFA's head of public relations. Granted Gauti had previously enjoyed a more than handy Ranji season, but his form for Knight Riders was almost certainly a factor in the Indian selectors granting him an international recall. Forgotten men also feature on the list of names selected for the ODI tour of Bangladesh, which is largely comprised of the tournament's high achievers. Suresh Raina, previously dropped from the Asia Cup, will lead an admittedly weakened squad, which also includes the Pepsi remaximised Wriddhiman Saha (last ODI in 2010) and Robin Uthappa (last ODI in 2008).
Another side of the IPL's impact is that the relentless fan adoration can raise a player's confidence more than a front-foot no-ball can raise eyebrows. At a difficult career juncture, Mitchell Johnson was bolstered by his trophy-snaffling 2013 stint with Mumbai, which helped him restore his self-belief after the Barmy Army had lowered it to the level of a limbo-dancing flatworm during the previous Ashes. The white-ball respect Mitch had long received on the subcontinent intensified during his impressive efforts in that tournament and was key, alongside his own facial-hair enhancement, to the emasculating mauling to which he subjected England a few months later. Similarly, only the IPL has the sheer fairy-tale razzmatazz to pluck a 41-year-old journeyman legspinner like Praveen Tambe out of relative obscurity and turn him into an age-defying, Champions League-terrorising, hat-trick-taking superstar.
Incredibly, some heretics still resist the shimmering philosopher's stone of the IPL. Eoin Morgan, for example, removed himself from this year's auction to play in the County Championship instead. There will be those who also point to the doomed partnership of Pondulkar last year - combined age of 78 at the time - as evidence the tournament's revitalising powers only work up to a certain point, and indeed it has to be conceded the rejuvenating magic has yet to particularly rub off on Albie Morkel. Nevertheless, when it comes to Gambhir, Johnson, a fair few of India's ODI squad, and the joyous Tambe, Lalit Modi's wanton brainchild has proved an antidote to jaundiced fortunes and a slap in the face to time's damaging advances.

James Marsh writes Pavilion Opinions. He is also a Tefl teacher whose students learn superlatives by being shown Graham Thorpe videos