Retirement. Over the near ten years that this blog has been running, many great players have slipped, always voluntarily, from the limelight: Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Lara, Ponting, Tendulkar.
There is usually a pattern, certainly for those who, even marginally, outstay their welcome. The form starts to slip, the player's age is repeatedly mentioned, possible retirement dates are proposed and debated. Then, when it has happened, eulogies are written.
I should know. I've written many of them myself.
When Shivnarine Chanderpaul recently announced his 'retirement' (He bats on for Guyana, which is hardly surprising. Will there ever be a time when, even in his head, Shiv isn't batting?) many tributes were paid. The best of these, by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan and Liam Cromar, emphasized Chanderpaul's status as almost the last of a kind. The batsman who is best known for being very, very difficult to dismiss. In the art, or the science, or perhaps just the bloody-minded discipline, of outlasting bowlers, Chanderpaul was the nonpareil.
He was, of course, far more than a mere accumulator; the thing I always liked most about him was the counter-intuitive contrast between the ugliness of his stance and the transparent class of many of his strokes. With Chanderpaul gone we have Alastair Cook, who does a very similar job, but without quite the accumulative powers or the class. This, perhaps, is the greatest mark of Chanderpaul's status as an outlier; he batted longer, and harder, and in poorer teams, and in greater denial of the traditions of his country's batting (the country, lest we forget, of Kanhai, of Fredericks, of Lloyd, of Hooper), than anyone else in the last twenty years, even Alastair Cook. With the way the game is changing, nobody will ever do that again.
When anyone retires, personal memories come to the fore. After the Test match between the West Indies and England at Lord's in July 2004 - a match in which Chanderpaul made undefeated scores of 128 and 97 in the face of heavy defeat - I stood at the door of the Long Room as he prepared to run the gauntlet of the supporters massed outside the pavilion's rear door. His face is a mask of characteristic seriousness and intensity; he has felt the pain of defeat once again, despite his best efforts. He wants away, but you sense that he would rather be able to leave in private, without having to deal with the adulation which he will receive. But the thing that leaves the strongest impression is his physical stature. He is one of the slightest people I have ever seen in an adult sporting context. Seemingly he is a boy in a man's world. Except, of course, in the matter of batting.
Now we have had the international retirement of Brendon McCullum. This is different in many senses; for one he is still at the peak of his powers, and, much to his credit, he is finishing while people are still asking, as the old aphorism goes, 'why?' instead of 'why not?'. For another he was never anyone's idea of an accumulator. While Chanderpaul would keep a contest alive to the end of his days, McCullum's way was to grab a match by the scruff of the neck and throw it out of the window.
As Rick Walton's superb, thought-provoking piece on the 'Wondrous Carnage' created by McCullum at Christchurch shows, he can provoke varying and contradictory emotions, but what McCullum deserves most respect for is the way in which he has been at the fulcrum of everything that has changed the world's perception of New Zealand cricket. New Zealand play uncomplicated, attacking cricket, but they do it with a lightness of touch and a lack of sourness which is refreshing and distinctive. Apart from the short period in the eighties when they had the advantage of one of the greatest bowlers of all time, New Zealand have never been anyone's idea of world-beaters, least of all their own.
Now, though, if you watch cricket in New Zealand you can watch it at the Hagley Oval, the sanctuary of post-earthquake Christchurch, and you can watch the batting of Kane Williamson, which is as good as anything of its kind that can presently be seen anywhere on earth.
In population terms, New Zealand is a small country at the end of the earth. It has its vivid natural beauty, it has its rugby, parodically it has its sheep.
Now, thanks in large part to Brendon McCullum, it has cricket.
Boats against the current
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