Monday, June 8, 2009

Age isn’t everything

Anyone watching the Bangladesh v India match in the ICC World Twenty20 from Trent Bridge would have been aware of the commentators mentioning that Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan was the top-rated all-rounder in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for One Day Internationals. Amid the Yuvraj Singh-inspired carnage of the later overs in Nottingham, Shakib still managed to bowl his four overs for just 24 runs with the wicket of Rohit Sharma for good measure.

The 1980s is thought of as the ‘golden’ era of the all-rounder when the likes of Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee plied their trade with both bat and ball, but it is still no mean achievement to reach top spot in a list that currently contains players such as Jacob Oram, Andrew Flintoff, Chris Gayle, Jacques Kallis and Sanath Jayasuriya – all of whom have been plying their trade around the world for the best part of a decade or more.

However, where Shakib really steps into his own is the fact that he managed to reach top spot incredibly early in his career. It is a reflection of modern-day cricket that he has already played 62 One Day Internationals, scoring two centuries and boasting an economy rate of just 4.02 – outstanding in today’s era of heavy bats and shorter boundaries. When he first reached the number one position on 19 January this year after taking three for 11 against Zimbabwe at Dhaka, he was aged just 21 years, 307 days, making him the youngest player ever to top the One Day all-rounder table. In fact, only one player has ever topped any of the three tables in the shorter format of the game at a younger age than the Bangladeshi ace, and you need to go back a decade in time to find him.

Throughout 1997 and 1998 the top spot in the bowling tree was pretty much exclusively a two-horse race between Curtly Ambrose and Shaun Pollock. However, for just one day in January 1998, Saqlain Mushtaq interrupted the pace domination. He took four for 41 for Pakistan against India at Dhaka to move to 789 points, just enough to sneak ahead of Pollock. However, after the following day’s match against the host country his initial fifteen minutes of fame were over and he was back down to number two. He didn’t have long to wait before reclaiming top spot which he did in September 1998, and he spent a total of 45 matches on top of the bowling tree. However, at the age of just 21 years 18 days, he remains the youngest player to take top spot in any of the Rating tables to date – in either Test cricket or One Day Internationals.

It will come as no surprise to discover the name of the youngest ODI batsman to head the table. Sachin Tendulkar has achieved many things and set many records in his career, and back on 29 February 1996 he added another to his resumé. That was the day that West Indies met Kenya at Pune. Brian Lara went into the match with a Batting Rating of 854 and a lead of four points over the 22 year, 316-day old Indian. However, Lara was dismissed for just eight as the West Indies slid to an ignominious defeat against the Kenyans which propelled Tendulkar to the top spot, which he initially held for just ten days before Lara passed him again.

Next time, we’ll have a look at the senior statesmen in the format of the game designed for the youngsters and discover who topped the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings table for ODI all-rounders at the age of thirty-eight!