Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Young and old provide sporting inspiration

Age boundaries blurred as teens and veterans impress.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq’s age is closing in on his test average. Picture / AP
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq’s age is closing in on his test average. Picture / AP

Rieko Ioane became a test All Black last week and Wellington schoolgirl Tiana Metuarau will play for the Central Pulse netball side next season.

This country continues to deliver a remarkable range of teenage sports talent headlined by the achievements of Lydia Ko, the top-rated golfer in the world.

Identifying rising quality is one of the fascinating topics which engulfs the sports world and creates huge debate about the morality, timing and wisdom of contracting youngsters.

There has also been an explosion of sport for those moving towards the other end of the age scale, and in April next year, New Zealand will host about 25,000 people participating across 28 events in the World Masters Games.

Around the globe, a number of oldies have been strutting their stuff this week as a reminder that international sporting quality does not have set boundaries.

In Belfast, 41-year-old Scotsman John Higgins made a maximum 147 break in snooker's Northern Ireland Open before long-time legends Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan met in a second round match.

O'Sullivan is rising 41 and playing with all his silky speed and quality which keeps him among the top-line of competitors on the world tour.

White, famously beaten in all six of his world championship finals, is 54 now with a well lived-in face and a dark toupee on his lid. He has slimmed down, is drinking water and playing a very measured game at odds with his Whirlwind nickname. He lost to his great buddy O'Sullivan but in a sport where eyesight and a pure stroke are as essential as strategy, White was in the ballpark.

So is Misbah-ul-Haq, who captains the Pakistan cricket side and whose age is catching up to his test average as he continues to perform with distinction after a late start to his career.

He is 42 and is averaging a touch over 48 since he made his test debut against New Zealand 15 years ago.

Misbah was set to retire this year but soon after announcing he would delay that departure until the test series against Australia in the New Year, he celebrated with a test century at Lord's.

He's brought a squad who have played on the road since 2009, have not lost a series to anyone since 2014 and have not lost a series against New Zealand in the past 31 years.

The Kiwi attack is not the quickest on the world circuit but Trent Boult and Co do rattle ribcages and expose flaws in batsmen whose technique, footwork and eyesight is not at the top level.

At Misbah's age, most men suffer some decline in their reflexes or eyesight and while he may be concealing some drop-off, his leadership and ability to unite his squad have delivered great benefits to Pakistan in their continued rise up the world rankings.

New Zealand's oldest test cricketer was legspinner Jack Alabaster who played against the West Indies when he was almost 42. Misbah would have to play for another five years to overhaul Pakistan's oldest test player Miran Bakhsh, who was 47 and on debut in 1955.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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