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Big Bash League proving to be a rewarding world for older, wiser cricketers

On the surface, the crash 'n' smash of the Big Bash League suggests it is the domain of super-fit cricketers with cat-like reflexes and the fearlessness of youth, but the reality is the adrenaline-charged tournament is being underpinned by players in their mid-30s – and older.

It appears for every 22-year-old such as the Strikers' Travis Head, who thrilled the Adelaide Oval crowd on New Year's eve with a century from 53 balls that included nine sixes, old-timers such as Michael Hussey, Jacques Kallis, Brad Hogg, Brad Haddin, Michael Klinger, Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle are stealing the headlines and, in the process, teaching the young punks how to keep cool heads.

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The players concerned would be loath to read about "pensioner power", but there's a compelling case that teams need seasoned players who have been around the block to be successful.

"You can't stop the clock but I think a bit of a mature head, knowing your game, can really help," said the Sydney Sixers' 35-year-old English opener Michael Lumb after he hit 63 to guide his team to victory over the Melbourne Renegades.

Old head: Mike Hussey, 40, has been integral to the Sydney Thunder's resurgence.
Old head: Mike Hussey, 40, has been integral to the Sydney Thunder's resurgence. Photo: Getty Images

After the Sixers lost to the Strikers on Thursday, when Head's heavy hitting scored the 51 runs required for victory from the final 18 balls, their skipper Nic Maddinson openly lamented the fact that 39-year-old Brett Lee retired after helping to spearhead the team to last summer's BBL final.

"We're missing Brett Lee," Maddinson said of one of cricket's most feared express pacemen and who, up until the end of his career, was entrusted with the job to bowl the final overs and contain the opposition's big-hitters. "The guy we used to rely on a lot is gone, so we need someone to step up and take the role.

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"Brett was quite reliable for two or three out of the last four or five overs. You could always rely on him to do a pretty good job, so that's where he's missed and someone is going to have to step up."

Kallis is starring for the Sydney Thunder at 40. He described his worth to the team's department of youth after bowling his side to an unlikely one-run victory over the Melbourne Stars before Christmas. The fast-medium bowling, which gained 292 Test wickets for South Africa, contained James Faulkner, one of T20's most damaging finishers.

"I don't know if a 40-year-old needs that [stress]," he laughed. "It's good fun, it's great being in those situations and, fortunately, I've been in a few so I have experience to fall back on. It's just going back to your basics and having a plan and backing your plan.

"I think experience in T20 cricket is vital in those tight situations. Most games go to the wire and, if you have experience, you can pass a bit of knowledge to the younger guys. It does make a difference. If the experienced guys can put up their hands in big moments, it's a massive bonus for the team."

The national selectors will soon pick Australia's squad for the T20 World Cup in India and, if they judge the candidates purely on this summer's BBL form, Hogg, 44, Mike Hussey, 40, Brad Hodge, 40, Haddin, 38, David Hussey, 38, Klinger, 35, and Shane Watson, 34, deserve consideration.

Mike Hussey, who was appointed as a consulted to the national T20 team as a result of his efforts with the rejuvenated top-of-the-table Thunder, ruled himself out for a recall, despite hitting scores of 80 not out and 71 at a healthy strike rate of 138.01 this summer, for what he called a "good reason".

"I'm happily retired from international cricket and I've signed on to help [Australia] as one of the coaches and I'm looking forward to that challenge," he said. "We have enough talent in this country, and players with the ability, not to go back to someone like me."

But Hussey conceded there was definitely the case for the selectors to run their thumbs over the merits over one or two golden oldies who offered much more than smart batting and impressive bowling figures.  

"Having that experience available to you is invaluable," he said. "There's that calmness under pressure and, in T20 cricket, because everything happens so fast, even as an experienced player you feel as though things can get away a little bit too quickly from you.

"So knowing what to do in a certain situation, like keeping calm, only comes with experience and that's why you probably see some of the more experienced players performing so well.

"However, I've definitely seen the younger guys who've had success appear to be those calmer ones who seem to know when to attack and when to defend more but, in saying that, you sometimes see some players who come out of the box and belt the ball anywhere or they bowl amazingly well. 

"T20 is unpredictable. It's a pretty hard game to read and anything can happen on any given day. However, it has been a bit of a trend that the experienced blokes who can handle pressure well can quite often come off on top."

Perth Scorchers left-arm spin bowler Hogg – who boasted an economy rate of 6.91 heading into Saturday's match against the Sixers at the WACA – will be 45 when Australia open their quest to win the T20 world crown and he's made it clear he wants to be a member of that bowling attack.

"I'd love to represent my country again," Hogg said after he took 1-15 against the Brisbane Heat. "That's the pinnacle of anyone's career. I'm just very fortunate that I'm going well."

Hogg, who played at the last T20 World Cup at age 43, said one reason for his effectiveness in the BBL was that he still worked hard on improving his game, two decades after making his Test debut against India.

During the off-season, he bowled a soft ball against a wall in his house to work on a new delivery to keep himself sharp for a format that demanded skill and innovation. But experience has given him the wisdom to know how hard to push that.

"I did try to bowl a wrong 'un that would come out as a leg-spinner – and I was trying to bowl that many moons ago –  and, while I landed one, it nearly ripped my shoulder off the bone."

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