It is not that unusual to see older players adorning their national colours. They are not playing for any veterans’ team, mind you. They are active players, doing pretty well in mainstream cricket, hockey, football, tennis, etc.
Many a time, players who started very early also retire late. The logic behind this may be that those who started taking care of their fitness from a young age remained fit for a longer time.
In cricket we witnessed the introduction of players like Mushtaq Mohammad, Javed Miandad and Sachin Tendulkar at young ages. On the other hand, one wonders why the services of Misbahul Haq, Mohammad Irfan, Saeed Ajmal and Yasir Shah were availed so late in their careers.
Some bloom early, some late. No, we are not talking of flower buds here. A few months ago we carried a piece about sportspersons who hit fame early in life. This time around we are going to talk about sportspersons who waited a while before hanging up their boots
Perhaps it is due to the physical build of Asian players that they generally start to peak late. Pakistan’s ace Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi also pointed this out that players here can indeed be late bloomers while quoting examples of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram who kept on performing and representing their national teams well past the ideal age of a sportsperson.
Three of the oldest players featuring in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 — Misbah, Younis Khan and Saeed Ajmal — belonged to Pakistan.
But there have also been tennis greats like Leander Paes, Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor winning Grand Slams at the age of 38, 39 and 40, respectively.
Sachin Tendulkar played his best one-day knock, which further cemented his stance in cricket in September, 2010, at the age of 37. But according to him motivation has a strong role to play in all this.
Being a late bloomer or performing out of simple motivation, whatever the reason, players who continued making it big on the international sporting arena are also blessed with a devoted fan following. Their fans, too, are not willing to let them go easily.
Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova was only a month short of her 50th birthday, when she finally bid adieu to professional tennis following another age-defying victory in which the 49-year-old, who was twice to thrice the age of most of her competitors, won the US Open mixed doubles in 2006.
Having first announced her retirement in 1994, Navratilova, then returned to tennis in 2000.
Navratilova, who turned pro in 1975 at the age of 24, was World No. 1 for a total of 332 weeks in singles and for a record 237 weeks in doubles. She was the only player in history to have held the top spot in both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women’s doubles titles (all-time record) and 10 major mixed doubles titles. Navratilova was one of three women ever to accomplish a career Grand Slam in singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles (the Grand Slam ‘boxed set’). She holds the records for most singles titles (167) and most doubles titles (177) in the open era. And yet her thirst wasn’t satiated until she couldn’t just do it anymore.
In fact, some believe that had she not been suffering from breast cancer, she may still have been on the circuit. The cancer survivor still plays some tennis while also competing in triathlons.
Legendary world heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali also called it a day a month short of his 40th birthday. He had announced his retirement two years before that, too.
Starting from the age of 12 and winning his first world heavyweight championship at the age of 22, Ali, remained in the headlines for different reasons besides boxing such as converting to Islam, refusal to join the US Army during the Vietnam war, his outbursts in support of the oppressed black community and against slavery, stripping off of his titles and the years-long court battles finally ending in a verdict in his favour. He may still be involved in boxing somehow had he not been slowed down by Parkinson’s disease.
His Airness, as Michael Jordan is fondly called, played in two Olympic gold medal winning USA basketball teams in 1984 and as part of the ‘Dream Team’ in 1992. His first retirement came during 1993 when he said he had lost interest in the game. He even signed a contract with the baseball team Chicago White Sox. However, he took back his retirement in 1995 and returned to NBA.
MJ’s second retirement came in January 1999 but this time he returned to the NBA for two more seasons in 2001 and 2003. Playing in his 14th and final NBA All-Star Game in 2003, he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer in All-Star Game history. Jordan also became the first 40-year-old to tally 43 points in an NBA game.
When it comes to statistics, there are very few which were not comfortably bulldozed by India’s run-making machine. Sachin Tendulkar is the only player to have scored one hundred international centuries, the first batsman to score a double century in a One Day International, most number of runs in both ODI and Test cricket, only player to complete more than 30,000 runs in international cricket. Making his debut in Pakistan in 1989 at the age of 16 years, Tendulkar played his last international game, his 200th Test match, against the West Indies in 2013 after almost 24 years of cricket and crossing 40 years. For any cricket lover, it was hard to accept international cricket without the stylish Tendulkar piling up runs against a hapless bowling attack.
He always said that he wanted to retire from cricket when at the top and Imran did announce his retirement, too, during the 1987 World Cup. But then he returned to cricket again after even the then president of Pakistan General Ziaul Haq requested him to not go.
The next World Cup saw him leading the side again to lift the World Cup at the age of 39. Imran also wanted to complete the construction of his cancer hospital back then so stayed on. The euphoria which followed Pakistan’s World Cup triumph also helped him gather funds to finish the hospital.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 22nd, 2015