'Old blokes win stuff': Why experience has been key in the T20 Blast
Six of the Blast's eight oldest teams reached the quarter-finals
Chennai Super Kings were mocked as 'Dad's Army' after the 2018 IPL auction, with 11 players over the age of 30 in their squad. They won the tournament that season, and would have retained it in 2019 but for a 35-year-old Lasith Malinga nailing a final-ball yorker.
In this year's BPL, 37-year-olds Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Irfan led the way with bat and ball respectively for Rajshahi Royals on their way to the title, supported by Andre Russell, a spring chicken at 31. In the CPL, Trinbago Knight Riders won every match on their way to the title, with 31-year-old Darren Bravo the youngest of their four leading run-scorers and 38-year-old Fawad Ahmed their top wicket-taker.
"Old blokes win stuff," Dan Christian (37) tweeted to congratulate Dwayne Bravo (36) on reaching 500 T20 wickets, soon after arriving in the UK to captain Nottinghamshire in the T20 Blast. Christian's Notts side have been the oldest team in the competition so far: they won seven and lost one in the group stage, and go into the quarter-finals as the bookies' favourites.
Old blokes win stuff @DJBravo47 https://t.co/mAv9jT1NQK— Dan Christian (@danchristian54) August 27, 2020
If the Bob Willis Trophy provided young players with a platform - there were some 30 first-class debutants across the competition - then the Blast has lived up to the adage that old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. Six of the competition's eight oldest teams have reached the quarter-finals, and teams are banking on their seniors to step up.
"You can't buy experience," Imad Wasim, Notts' other overseas player, said. "The more you play, the more you can deliver in tough situations. We have a lot of players who have played a lot of T20 cricket."
The XIs that Notts have fielded across the tournament have an average age above 30 years old; that figure would have been higher still but for the injury-enforced absence of Harry Gurney, 33. And even their young players are experienced: Ben Duckett (25), Joe Clarke (24) and Tom Moores (24) have 228 T20 appearances between them.
Northamptonshire, the Blast's second-oldest team, sat down at the start of the season to hear David Ripley, their head coach, remind them of their experience as a group.
"Rips said that having played so many games between us, we've probably been through every possible situation that could be thrown at us," Josh Cobb, their captain, explained. "That can only really help. Having played in those tough games and pressurised situations, you know how to handle them and how to get the most of yourself."
Cobb, 30, has played 156 T20s in his career. If they line up as expected against Gloucestershire, then their top three - Richard Levi, Paul Stirling and Cobb - will have 600 career appearances between them. Their opponents have lost the retired Michael Klinger this season, but still boast an average age of 27.8.
At The Oval, Surrey and Kent will both consider bringing in old heads for their quarter-final. Will Jacks, 21, has had a breakout season for Surrey and will likely bat in a top four including Jason Roy (30), Laurie Evans (32) and Hashim Amla (37). Gareth Batty, the oldest player in the competition at 42, is fit to play after a hamstring injury, while Kent captain Sam Billings has floated the option of including 36-year-old Tim Groenewald. "Maybe that's something we can look at - that experience, coming into those latter stages might be something to lean on," he said.
And down at Hove, Sussex will lean on their senior players against Lancashire, with the Blast's all-time leading run-scorer - Luke Wright - and wicket-taker - Danny Briggs - in their ranks, and a pair of 35-year-olds in David Wiese and Ravi Bopara.
"When you get older, you're a better player thanks to that experience," Wright said. "Often in cricket, we're very quick to try and get older players to retire or are shocked when they do well, but I think now as Stevo [Darren Stevens] has shown, you can go on into your late 30s and early 40s."
And while Lancashire, one of the Blast's younger sides, will hope their spinners - Tom Hartley (22) and Matt Parkinson (23) - prove to be the difference, they will still rely on Dane Vilas and Steven Croft (both 35) to hold their middle order together.
The exception to the rule are Nottinghamshire's opponents: in Thursday night's game at Trent Bridge, the Blast's oldest side will be up against its second-youngest. "Experience brings consistency, but youth has no fear," Leicestershire's head coach Paul Nixon insisted. "If you get the right thinking, that will put the odds in your favour."
Nixon considers Leicestershire to be the competition's best-prepared side, after employing freelance analytics consultant Dan Weston to help with opposition preparation and strategy. His side's top run-scorers are captain Colin Ackermann and Arron Lilley - both 29 - but most of the squad are in their early 20s.
"In T20 cricket, you have to be fearless but there is a lot of quick and smart thinking involved," Nixon explained. "Tom Smith, my assistant coach, has a lot of knowledge, and I've played in and coached some very good teams over the years. We know from our experience how to focus on the right things."
But Nixon's young side are the outliers in a tournament dominated by wily old-timers; unless they pull off another upset, Christian and his side will have another chance to prove his adage that it is old blokes who win stuff.
With stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98