Is there a more popular cricketer around the world than Brendon McCullum? I can’t think of one. He’s given the cricketing world so much pleasure over the years. It’s sad that he’s called time on his international career at the relatively tender age of 34. It sounds like he simply didn’t have the desire to continue. It’s a shame as he’s certainly fit enough to carry on.
McCullum’s test performances have actually improved with age. As his first innings at the Hagley Oval proved – the fastest century in the history of test cricket – he’s still one hell of a player at the peak of his powers. In his last six test series he’s averaged 69, 72, 35, 27, 42 and 45. That’s not bad at all. What’s more, it was only two years ago that he made his astonishing 302 against India.
Although McCullum joked about being ‘old school’ in his post-match interviews – he said New Zealand would probably be more professional and consistent under Kane Williamson’s leadership – I sensed he was being rather modest. He’s hardly piled on the pounds like an Inzamam during his thirties. Modern fitness regimes can extend a player’s career considerably.
While it’s tougher for fast bowlers to keep going indefinitely, batsmen can play well into their late 30s. Kumar Sangakkara was still prolific when he retired at the age of 37 (going on 38) as was Mahela Jayawardene. I’m not saying everyone can play top level sport into their late 30s – I’d have struggled to get through a single training session at the age of 21 – but dedicated professional sportsmen certainly can.
A bigger concern to batsmen is the stage at which their eye starts to go. Once that happens (even by 5%) it’s incredibly hard to face the world’s fastest bowlers. It’s interesting to note that Chris Rogers played 23 of his 24 tests after the age of 35. One of the factors in his retirement was the decision to play with pink balls on occasion – being colour-blind, Bucky found it hard to see.
These days cricketers can extend their careers by using general strength and conditioning programmes as well as cricket specific drills. These activities are very similar to those used by other sportsmen. In fact, some of them remind me of PE lessons at school (minus the knobbly knees and Green Flash trainers of course).
There’s squats, which build muscle in the quadriceps, calf muscles, and help to strengthen the spine. There’s simple press ups, which work the chest, delts and core. Then there’s pull ups, which do your lats, back and chest. Lunges are another good general exercise for cricketers because they improve balance and strength in the legs. Wicket-keepers and slip fielders are also encouraged to do deadlifts, which strengthen the back and core. Had I known this as a young man I wouldn’t have been crippled by constant bending over in the field.
Although fitness programmes reduce the chance of injuries, as can good diets, maxinutrition supplements and ice-baths, injuries still occur of course. I guess it’s because cricket makes sportsmen do unnatural movements repetitively. Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen both suffered knee injuries. Michael Clarke had a chronic back problem that hastened his retirement.
However, as far as I know, injuries aren’t the main reason why McCullum has called it a day. He has something of a recurring back problem but this hasn’t affected his performances at all. He says in the audio clip above that he simply wants to spend more time with his family. He also says New Zealand would benefit from a change of leadership.
It’s interesting that McCullum decided to call it a career now rather than wait until after the World T20 in India next month. After all McCullum IS going to play in this year’s IPL (which starts immediately afterwards). He’s been signed up by Rajkot for a rather large sum of money – not that we’re begrudging him a big paycheque at this stage of his career.
Consequently, one wonders whether fitness is a red herring in this day and age. Maybe McCullum simply wants to maximise his earning potential while simultaneously finding more time to enjoy his kids?
The big issue, I suppose, is whether somewhat premature international retirements will become a trend? With national boards scheduling a ridiculous amount of cricket, the temptation to pack in internationals and cash in on lucrative T20 tournaments must be humungous when players reach a certain age.
In case you’re interested, AB de Villiers is just two years younger than McCullum. I wonder what he’ll be doing in March 2018?