Former Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is 38 years old and continues to play ODI and T20 cricket after retiring from Test cricket in December 2014. Some speculate that the 2019 World Cup will be Dhoni’s last outing. Tennis legend Roger Federer is 37 years old and is vying for his ninth Wimbledon and 21st Grand Slam title. Like Dhoni, Federer too has had to quash questions about his retirement.
ThePrint asks: M.S. Dhoni to Roger Federer – is there a right time to retire from sports?
Talents in Indian cricket often have to wait because some veteran isn’t ready to give up his/her place
Retirement from any sport also has a lot to do with the nature of that sport. In an individual sport, one can play for as long as one wants. After all, by choosing not to retire, a player is not holding back anyone else’s career. If a new player has to emerge, he or she will invariably do it. And if a former great doesn’t have a problem in playing like a shadow of their former-self, then who are we to complain about it?
This dynamic changes though in a team sport. In many instances, an older player ceases to be the great he/she used to be. But because of their stature, it becomes difficult to remove them. It happens quite often in Indian cricket. This creates a problem as many exciting talents have to wait for years because some veteran isn’t ready to give up his/her place. In such instances, it becomes important for the selectors to oust the non-performing veteran regardless of stature.
This doesn’t, however, mean that some arbitrary retirement age be set in team sports. If a player is performing, then there is no reason why he/she should retire. And sometimes, teams face so much talent deficit in the short-term that some of their veterans could have shelved their retirement plans at least by a couple of years. Remember Sri Lanka’s Sanga-Mahela and Pakistan’s Misbah-Younis?
There isn’t really a ‘right’ time to retire; there’s only a time that’s right for each athlete
Athletes are aware that their careers have a shelf life, and a shorter one than most other professions. But there really isn’t a ‘right’ time to retire; there’s only a time that’s right for each athlete. In the ongoing Wimbledon tournament, Roger Federer, at the age of 37, became the first person in history to win 350 Grand Slam singles; 15-year-old Cori Gauff, on the other hand, is proving to be the most dangerous wild card this year.
The conversation right now is less about retiring and more about accommodating rare talent into the Women’s Tennis Association’s age eligibility rules. Federer recently made a case on behalf of Gauff, asking them to relax the rule that limits the number of games young athletes can play as a way to prevent burnout.
It wouldn’t serve athletes well to play past their prime during high-stake tournaments – it’s arguably better to go out swinging than painfully fade away from primacy. A person’s prime, however, is subject to the abilities of their respective bodies; to the demands made on them by the sport they play; and to luck, which can determine whether the sportsperson will face any career-defining injury.
At 38, cricketer M.S. Dhoni is still perhaps the safest set of hands behind the wicket. A quick Google search of ‘oldest athletes’ will tell you that some play well past their 50s in certain conditions, and that the choice to retire or not is decisively theirs. Anyone would want to keep doing what they love for as long as they can, even if they can no longer compete on the world stage.
There’s a right time to retire – when you realise that continuing to play will only hamper your legacy
As a sportsperson/enthusiast, the answer which comes instinctively is no. Across sports, we have seen athletes retire at various stages of their career and for so many different reasons.
In my opinion, though, there is a right time to retire. When the sport, which is your livelihood and profession, does not start harming your body; when your profession and your body are not in conflict and at odds with each other.
The beauty about sport is how unpredictable it is because it throws marvels like Roger Federer, who at the age of 37, prances across the court like a deer so effortlessly that it’s annoying. There was a point during Federer’s losing streak where many were saying that he should retire. But he didn’t listen to any of the gyan and reinvented his game to suit his age and body. That is another factor in itself – one should retire when the legacy they have built for themselves does not suffer and it takes a certain strength and insight to be able to distinguish what a bad phase is and when your body/mind is giving up.
The right time to retire is when you realise you have reached your maximum potential and anything further will only hamper that legacy.
Cricketers are retiring from longer formats like Tests and ODIs to make their T20 careers longer
There comes a time in every sportsperson’s career when their age starts affecting their game. Be it in football, cricket, tennis or any other sport, those over the age of 36 are routinely talked about regarding their timing, strength and fitness, all of which starts taking a hit. In cricket, it is rare to see a cricketer playing in their late 30s. Five of India’s prominent cricket players – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid – retired after crossing the 36-year mark, the age where sportspersons are automatically expected to take retirement and make way for younger players.
But players at this age are usually stalwarts of their generations and so it mainly comes down to them taking the call on retirement. Some believe that one should keep playing until they are able to contribute to the game, whereas other sportspersons believe that it is better to leave the game on a high. There are, of course, exceptions as well, like Australia’s Brad Hogg and South Africa’s Imran Tahir who continued playing even after turning 40 without the age affecting their performance. Then there is Michael Schumacher who came out of his retirement to drive F1 again at the age of 41, although he could not replicate his earlier glory.
However, the trend is changing nowadays, especially in cricket. Cricketers are retiring from longer formats like Tests and ODIs to make their T20 careers longer. In fact, this would not only be applicable to cricket but other sport as well where more number of games are now being played than earlier.