For a cricket lover, the year 2015 has been an eerie story of cyclicality. It has been a story, however, with a fair share of melancholy. The year started with the cricket fraternity having to come to terms with the shock retirement of India’s charismatic wicket-keeper-batsman and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni from Tests. India’s “Captain Cool” had announced his decision only two days before the new year, sending tongues wagging like never before.
And now, as the year draws to a close, another top performer of world cricket has decided to call time on his illustrious career. From one dashing wicket-keeper-batsman and captain to another, we have come a full circle. What started with Dhoni is ending with Brendon McCullum – without a doubt one of New Zealand’s greatest ever cricketers.
McCullum, who is known for his brute hitting and almost superhuman athleticism on the field, on Tuesday announced that he will retire from all forms of the game after the second Test against Australia in February. Surely it is not time for the Kiwi dasher to hang his boots! He is only 34 and one can be pretty certain that there is more cricket left in him.
The shock and surprise of the cricket fraternity was amply expressed by South African all-rounder Albie Morkel. “I read the papers this morning and was pretty much surprised by his decision… I would have thought he would do it after the World Cup (the upcoming World T20), but he’ll have his good reasons,” Morkel told RadioSport.
He added that McCullum’s exit “would leave a massive gap in New Zealand cricket”. What it will also do is that it will leave a massive gap in the World T20 to be hosted by India in March-April next year. What is a T20 tournament without the power-hitting of a McCullum? Morkel perhaps alluded to this when he expressed surprise at the Kiwi captain choosing to retire before the World T20.
|1. Brendon McCullum|
And McCullum has had a strong relation with T20s and India. It was here in India in 2008 in the very first match of the very first Indian Premier League (IPL) – a T20 tournament that had since become a phenomenon – that McCullum, playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) blasted a jaw-dropping 158 not out off 73 balls, with 13 sixes, no less! It defined McCullum as much as it gave the IPL its identity. Earlier this year, he equalled that score, in even lesser number of deliveries in a NatWest T20 Blast match at Edgbaston.
However, McCullum was a force to reckon with in other formats of the game too, his apparent love for T20s notwithstanding. Two of his best Test knocks were against India: one a 225 in Hyderabad and another a 302 in Wellington. And both saved Tests for the team.
When the Kiwi captain plays the first Test against Australia next year, he will become the first man to play 100 Tests on the trot since his debut. Of the many other records to his name, he also has hit a century of sixes in Tests equalling Adam Gilchrist’s record and looks set to become the batsman with the maximum number of sixes in Tests when he faces Gilchrist’s home country, Australia.
McCullum had also led New Zealand to its first-ever ODI World Cup final, giving ample evidence of his captaincy skills.
But McCullum was not the only big star who decided to bid goodbye to cricket, in totality, or in part, this year. From Australia’s Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, India’s Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik, New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori to the legendary Sri Lankan duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, the list has been long.
Many of these frontline players chose the ODI World Cup earlier this year for their swansong. However, many of them could have easily played on for many more years. The reason for the likes of Clarke, Watson, Johnson, and now McCullum at least, for calling time on their careers is difficult to fathom.
Perhaps they knew something which we didn’t. Did they want to go out when people would ask “why” and “why not”? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, the cricket universe has been thoroghly shaken by the exit of all these top performers.
The 34-year-old Clarke, who had earlier quit T20s, retired from ODIs on a high after leading Australia to the World Cup crown on home soil. He anchored the Aussie chase in the final at the MCG with a fine 74. A fine batsman and more than a handy left-arm spinner, Clarke drew comparisons with the stylish compatriot Mark Waugh.
He declared his arrival in no uncertain terms on his Test debut itself against India, with an imperious 150-odd, and also scored triple century against the same opposition. That unbeaten 329 was one of the most exhilarating examples of strokeplay that you will ever see.
Clarke retired from Tests after the Ashes a few months later. With over 8,000 runs in Tests and close to 8,000 runs in ODIs, Michael Clarke would certainly be one of the top batsmen Australia has ever produced.
|2. Michael Clarke|
Like Clarke, his teammate Johnson also announced retirement at the age of 34 (McCullum has also done so at the same age. What’s with 34-year-olds now?). The tormentor of many an opposition, it was sad to see Johnson go, especially when he was still doing reasonably well, and had forged a partnership with Mitchell Starc that scared the living daylights out of many a batsman.
He was one of the main architects of Australia’s record fifth World Cup triumph in March this year. Over 300 Test wickets and over 200 ODI wickets speak volumes of Johnson’s abilities.
|3. Mitchell Johnson|
Watson retired from Tests (at the age of 34, again!) a few months back, but one feels the all-rounder, known for his lusty hitting and more than useful medium pace, couldn’t do justice to his talent in the five-day format of the game, at least.
|4. Shane Watson|
Australia’s wicket-keeper-batsman Brad Haddin retired from Tests after the Ashes defeat, having already retired from ODIs after the World Cup triumph in March. He has over 3,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs, and effected 270 dismissals in Tests and 181 in ODIs.
|5. Brad Haddin|
The Indian duo of Sehwag and Zaheer were part of Sourav Ganguly’s Team India that won hearts (and matches!) with its brand of aggressive cricket and the characters of both were totally in sync with Ganguly’s scheme of things. They were integral part of the team that turned around from the brink to reach the final of the World Cup in 2003 and that which went on to win the trophy in 2011.
They were important cogs of the star-studded India side of the 2000s that reached the pinnacle of the Test and ODI rankings and the contribution of both of them in it was inestimable. While Sehwag flayed bowlers of every description, fame and calibre all around the park, playing without a worry in the world, Zaheer made the ball talk, and along with Anil Kumble was the mainstay of the Indian attack for a very long time, helping his side notch up historic wins both in India and overseas.
|6. Virender Sehwag|
While Sehwag’s two Test triple centuries and the ODI double ton are the stuff of legends, he missed a third triple century in Tests by a whisker (by a mere seven runs). It would have made him the only batsman to achieve the feat – something which even Sir Don Bradman could not do.
Over 8,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs is ample proof of Sehwag’s brilliance. But more than the numbers, what made him stand out was the fearless cricket he played, and that in a way embodied the spirit of the new-age Indian side. He knew his job in the team well, and that was to hit and hit hard and long. And he did that pretty well.
|7. Zaheer Khan|
Zaheer, meanwhile, went about making life difficult for batsmen the world over. Taking advantage of pacer-friendly tracks overseas, and using the reverse swing to good effect in India, he reaped rich harvests. One of the high points in his career would have to be the “man of the series” performance in England in 2007 – a series which India won. The speedster had taken 311 wickets in Tests and 282 wickets in ODIs.
Pakistani all-rounder and Shahid Afridi, known perhaps as much for his tantrums on- and off-the-field, as his power hitting and sharp legbreaks, retired from ODIs after the World Cup in Australia/New Zealand. He had already retired from Tests in 2010 and may quit international cricket after the World T20 next year.
|8. Shahid Afridi|
Afridi has a history of retiring and coming back to the point of almost trivialising the concept of retirement, but would be fondly remembered for the murderous 37-ball 100 against Sri Lanka in 1996, which held the record for the fastest ODI hundred for a long time.
Pakistan’s star batsman Misbah-ul-Haq also retired from ODIs after the World Cup. A classy batsman and a stoic individual on the field, Misbah brings about a sense of much-needed calmness amidst a bunch of combustible characters. He really announced himself on the world stage during the inaugural World T20 in South Africa in 2007, and had almost taken the title away from India in that epic final in Johannesburg.
|10. Younis Khan|
Another senior pro of Pakistan cricket Younis Khan decided he had had enough of ODIs. In 265 ODIs, he has over 7,000 runs, with an average of just over 31. Younis, had retired from T20s earlier and will now focus solely on Tests in which he is currently Pakistan’s highest run-getter.
|11. Shoaib Malik|
Shoaib Malik, the former Pakistan captain, on the other hand chose to bid goodbye to Tests instead. His retirement was, however, as dramatic as his return to the Test side. Malik was recalled to the Test side after 2010 and made the opportunity count with a career best 245 against England, but only three matches after the recall, he decided to hang his boots.
However, Sri Lanka probably faced the biggest dent as a result of star player retirements, with two of its biggest ever names Sangakkara and Jayawardene walking into the sunset. Sangakkara retired from limited overs cricket following the World Cup quarterfinal loss to South Africa in Sydney, but not before he had set the World Cup on fire with four consecutive centuries – a feat never achieved in ODIs, let alone World Cups.
He also now holds the record for most number of hundreds in a single World Cup. One of the great servants of Sri Lankan cricket, Sangakkara went out with a flourish. He later retired from Tests as well after the second match of the series against India in August.
A fine batsman, wicket-keeper and captain, Sangakkara has over 12,000 runs in Tests, including 11 double tons (only Sir Don has more), and over 14,000 runs in ODIs.
|12. Kumar Sangakkara|
Jayawardene and Sangakkara had a few things in common. Apart from being the two of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricket icons, they had both captained the side. They had also stitched together major partnerships many a time. And Sangakkara’s last ODI was also Jayawardene’s last.
Having retired from Tests earlier, the classy Jayawardene brought the curtains down on his ODI career after the World Cup. He has close to 12,000 runs in Tests and over 12,000 runs in ODIs. He is possibly best remembered for a mammoth 374 in a Test versus South Africa in 2006 which for sometime had put Brian Lara’s highest Test score of 400 in serious danger. In that innings too Jayawardene found a staunch ally in Sangakkara (287) and their partnership yielded over 600 runs.
|13. Mahela Jayawardene|
Former Kiwi captain Daniel Vettori also bid international cricket farewell after the World Cup final loss to Australia. Vettori, the youngest man to play Test cricket for the Black Caps, scored over 4,500 runs and took 362 wickets in Tests, and scored over 2,000 runs and took 305 wickets in ODIs.
|14. Daniel Vettori|
The players who have left the international stage this year come along only once in a while. The void they have left in their wake is massive. It is upto the new generation to fill up, though it would take time to do so. The Steve Smiths and Mitchell Starcs of Australia may be good, but it won’t be easy to build a team as strong as the one that boasted of the likes of McGrath, Warne, Ponting, Hayden, Clarke, Gilchrist and Lee.
The Kohlis and Shikhar Dhawans may be able performers, but to have a team that matches the famous Indian line-up comprising the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble and Zaheer is no child’s play.
Which player will step up now to take the place of Sanga-Mahela for Sri Lanka? All of this would be interesting to watch as we look forward to 2016.
The author is a journalist with DailyO.