When compared to football and tennis, cricket is a sport that is kinder to players in their 30s. However, the gradual decline of hand-eye skills and fitness means that all cricketers, especially fast bowlers, struggle with deciding when to move on from the game.
This trend has been seen even in legends of the game like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, who were well past their primes when they chose to walk away from the sport that had given them so much. But some lucky players have had the good fortune to hang up their boots with their head held high.
As they say, it's better for a cricketer to be asked why he retired rather than when he will retire. In this article, we take a look at 5 legendary cricketers who retired when they were in their prime.
#5 Brendon McCullum
Brendon McCullum is one of the greatest players and leaders New Zealand has ever produced. The explosive batsman retired from all forms of international cricket in 2016, just one year after taking his country to the final of the 2015 World Cup.
In cricket's biggest tournament, McCullum was at his imperious best, including a stunning 77 off 25 against England. Although his team fell at the final hurdle to neighbours Australia, the former Kiwi captain seemed to be far from done.
However, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the summer, much to the shock of cricket fans across the world. In his final Test against Australia at Christchurch, McCullum scored the fastest-ever Test hundred off just 54 balls en route to a 79-ball 145 in the first innings. He also claimed the record for the most sixes in the longest format of the game.
After retiring from international cricket, McCullum played in various T20 franchise leagues, such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) with the Gujarat Lions. He bid adieu to the game altogether after 2019's GT20 Canada and now plies his trade as the coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the IPL.
#4 Glenn McGrath
The only bowler on this list, Glenn McGrath is the fifth-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and the seventh-highest wicket-taker in ODI cricket. But stunningly, the pacer also walked away from the sport when he was in peak form.
McGrath retired from cricket after Australia's victorious 2007 World Cup campaign, a tournament in which he was the leading wicket-taker with 26 scalps. He was named the Player of the Tournament and was included in the ICC World ODI XI of the year.
Only months before the World Cup, McGrath picked up 21 wickets in a 5-0 Ashes drubbing of England, a series that would be his last in Test cricket. Interestingly, Pigeon also took a wicket off his last ball in the format.
Although the 50-year-old did struggle with injuries in the months leading up to his retirement, his accuracy and consistency had never been better. McGrath was in his late thirties when he chose to walk away, but could have easily played another year or two and would have been one of the Kangaroos' best bowlers had he done so.
He went on to play for the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL and has undertaken a role at the MRF Pace Foundation.
#3 Kumar Sangakkara
Kumar Sangakkara is perhaps Sri Lanka's greatest batsman of all time and since his retirement, cricket in the country has been on a steep downward spiral. The classy southpaw retired from T20I cricket after winning the 2014 T20 World Cup, a tournament in which the Lankans beat India in the final.
Then came the 2015 World Cup, and Sangakkara broke a host of records in the tournament. The former Sri Lanka captain was the second-highest run-getter in the competition, and scored 541 runs at a Bradmanesque average of 108.2. He also managed 4 (yes, 4!) consecutive centuries in that edition of the World Cup.
Soon after his country's disappointing loss in the quarter-finals, Sangakkara retired from the longest format of the game as well after a series against India. The 42-year-old was pleaded with to reconsider by his countrymen and the board, but turned a deaf ear to those requests.
Sangakkara is currently the President of the MCC.
#2 Sourav Ganguly
Former captain Sourav Ganguly is one of the few Indian cricketers who retired at the top of their game, although it wasn't exactly on his terms.
Dada played his last ODI for India in November 2007 and in that calendar year, he averaged 44.28 in 32 ODIs and scored 1,240 runs along with 12 fifties. Ganguly was the fifth-highest run-scorer in 2007 in the 50-over format, but an embarrassing exit from the World Cup and the controversial tenure of Greg Chappell ensured that he didn't play for the country in the colours again.
Not only ODIs, the Prince of Kolkata had a splendid 2007 in the longest format of the game, and was named in the ICC Test XI for his 1,106 runs at an average of 61.44, along with 3 centuries and 4 fifties. Even in 2008, Ganguly was solid, scoring 5 fifties and 1 hundred in 13 Tests.
Although his final Test series wasn't his best, it almost seemed like Ganguly had been forced out of the national side with little reason. The current BCCI President had a lot more to give and wasn't anywhere near as unfit or slow as he was portrayed to be in the media.
#1 AB de Villiers
Cricket fans are yet to recover from the rude shock that was AB de Villiers' international retirement. While being at the top of his game in all three formats, De Villiers walked away from the sport in 2018, citing tiredness and a lack of motivation.
In his last year in international cricket, Mr. 360 averaged 52.18 in ODIs, and scored 5 fifties and 2 hundred en route to 835 runs. His career high of 176 in the format also came in this period against Bangladesh. In Tests, De Villiers was even better. He averaged 53.15 (3 points above his career average), and also managed 7 fifties and 1 century.
It has been speculated that the former South Africa captain took the 2015 World Cup semi-final loss against New Zealand a little too harshly, but his decision to leave the Proteas high and dry ahead of the 2019 World Cup (their campaign was disastrous) was questioned by all.
South African limited-overs captain Quinton de Kock recently spoke in favour of De Villiers' return to international cricket for the T20 World Cup, but the postponement of the tournament owing to the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works.
AB de Villiers' stint at Royal Challengers Bangalore might be the last we see of one of cricket's most gifted talents.