11 Cricketers Who Retired Too Early – The Lost Generation of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, AB De Villiers, Hashim Amla, and Michael Clarke




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Which cricketer's retirement hurt you the most?

Greatness.

A simple word that carries immense burden. What defines greatness in sports? Statistical brilliance, nostalgia, longevity? In cricketing terms, 99.94, memories like Brett Lee vs Sachin Tendulkar, 100 Tests, or 15 years+ career?

Also Read: 22 Unlucky Cricketers, Most Underrated Cricketers

To Retire Or Not to Retire, That is the Question

Legacies are largely depended on the final days in the international arena. Retirement has always been a tricky issue in cricket.

Sourav Ganguly’s Ian Chappell saga tarnished his otherwise positive legacy. A poor 2007 Cricket World Cup ended dreams for Brian Lara & Inzamam ul-Haq. Simon Jones’ career ended before it could start due to injuries.

Some overstay and risk going out on a low. Others like German soccer captain Philipp Lahm retired internationally at the age of just 30 after winning the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

The Lost Generation

Today we dive deep into the careers of the lost generation of 2005—Alastair Cook, AB De Villiers, Michael Clarke, and Hashim Amla, all of them would retire prematurely.

With the triple retirement of Dale Steyn, Brendon Taylor, and Lasith Malinga, the legendary class of 2004-06 is coming to a close. Only Broad-Anderson & Ross Taylor remain from the greats of this era.

Sandwiched between the 90s golden generations of Sangakkara-Jayawardene-Muralitharan, Tendulkar-Laxman-Ganguly-Dravid, Kallis-Pollock-Boucher-Ntini, Inzamam-Yousuf, Ponting led Australia, & the Fab 4 (Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steve Smith), there was the class of 2004 & 2005.

Why did these cricketers retire so soon? How does the future look like? Read till the end for our in-deptj analysis & final thoughts.

11 Cricketers Who Retired Too Early

While legends of the past played 12-15 years, the cricketers in this list only had about 9-12 years of international cricket. The fact that they followed the golden generation lead to slightly later debuts and hence, even shorter careers.

One of the clear indications of the early retirement for the batters is the statistics. Most did not cross 10,000, their averages fell below 50, and the centuries hovered between 25-27 (although at one stage it seemed each of these players would break them all).

Anderson’s long career seems like he is on another level (which he is) but in all reality, at one stage, all of these players would have careers as long as Jimmy Anderson.

The players in this list were not dropped. They retired on their own terms or because of other circumstances. Hence, we exclude players like Ian Bell, Virender Sehwag, Umar Gul, Suresh Raina, and Gautam Gambhir who were available for selection but were unfortunately dropped from the team plans later in their career.

1. Michael Clarke (Australia)

Tests: 115 Matches, 8643 runs, 49.10 average, 329* best, 100s/50s – 28/27, 31 wickets

ODIs: 245 Matches, 7981 runs, 44.58 average, 130 best, 100s/50s – 8/58, 57 wickets

T20Is: 34 Matches, 488 runs, 21.21 average, 103.17 SR, 67 best, 50-1, 6 wickets

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: January 18, 2003 (ODI)
  • Last Match: August 19-22, 2015 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 21
  • Age Retired: 33
  • Why Did He Retire?

Retiring on a high is every cricketer’s dream. Captaining Australia to a victory at home in front of the MCG crowd must have been a surreal experience. A few months later, the Ashes would be his final appearance. One of the bests #4 batters of all-time with a godly conversion rate in Tests. The 2012-13 season would always be remembered as Clarke’s year, the only batter to score 4 double centuries in a year.

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2. Ryan Harris (Australia)

Tests: 27 Matches, 113 wickets, 23.52 average, 50.70 SR, best of 7/117 & 9/106, 4w/5w – 4/5

ODIs: 21 Matches, 44 wickets, 18.90 average, 5/19 best, 5w – 3

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: January 17, 2009 (ODI)
  • Last Match: January 5-9, 2015 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 29
  • Age Retired: 35
  • Why Did He Retire?

Harris’ career was a classic cases of fast bowling injuries. Whenever he was fit, he bowled his heart out and made an indelible impact. Could not make the XI in Australia’s golden generation and had to leave early due to chronic knee injury. Retired 3 days before the Ashes because he could not recover even after surgery. Will always be remembered for the ball of this century to dismiss Alastair Cook.

“I played 27 more Tests than I every thought I would and I have relished every single moment of them.”

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3. Sir Alastair Cook (England)

Tests: 161 Matches, 12472 runs, 45.35 average, 294 best, 100s/50s – 33/57

ODIs: 92 Matches, 3204 runs, 36.40 average, 137 best, 100s/50s – 5/19

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: February 28 – March 4, 2006 (Test)
  • Last Match: September 6-10, 2018 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 21
  • Age Retired: 33
  • Current Age: 36
    • Still playing for Essex and hitting centuries
  • Why Did He Retire?

At one point in time, he was touted to overtake Sachin Tendulkar as the highest run-scorer and century maker having scored 5000 runs at 26. Will always be remembered for the 2010-11 Ashes series down under. However, loss of form and inconsistency creeped in. Tougher playing conditions, 159 Tests in a row, and the KP saga probably got to him. Century in his first and last Tests against India showed that he still had it in him. Still the best opener in England?

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4. Sir Andrew Strauss (England)

Tests: 100 Matches, 7037 runs, 40.91 average, 177 best, 100s/50s – 21/27

ODIs: 127 Matches, 4205 runs, 35.63 average, 158 best, 100s/50s – 6/27

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: November 17, 2003 (ODI)
  • Last Match: August 15-19, 2018 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 27
  • Age Retired: 35
  • Why Did He Retire?

Due to his late debut, it was inevitable that Strauss would not have an extremely long career, but England fans learned how great Andrew Strauss was after his retirement, for both his captaincy & batting. Since the Cook-Strauss partnership ended, England could not find a stable partner for Cook (and Cook’s effectiveness also decreased). KP himself said in an interview that the text-messaging scandal on the eve of Strauss’s 100th Test was one of his biggest mistakes, which tarnished Strauss’ last match. Later became ECB’s Director of cricket and subsequently received knighthood for his service to English cricket.

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5. Kevin Pietersen (England)

Tests: 104 Matches, 8181 runs, 47.28 average, 227 best, 100s/50s – 23/35

ODIs: 136 Matches, 4440 runs, 40.73 average, 130 best, 100s/50s – 9/25

T20Is: 37 Matches, 1176 runs, 37.93 average, 141.59 SR, 79 best, 50s – 7

T20s: 200 Matches, 5695 runs, 33.89 average, 136.89 SR, 115* best, 100s/50s – 3/35

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: November 27, 2004 (ODI)
  • Last Match: January 02-04, 2014 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 24
  • Age Retired: 33
  • Why Did He Retire?

See Strauss above. Jokes aside, KP’s career had always been hampered by controversies. Although he had to leave South Africa and debuted relatively late, he quickly established himself as one of the greatest in his generation. Key contributor to the 2005 Ashes, 2012 India series, and 2010 T20 World Cup victories, he was a key component of driving English cricket forward. Although he was England’s highest scorer in the Mitchell Johnson 2015 series, he was a casualty of the 5-0 defeat. Poor relationship with Strauss & coach Andy Flower did not help as the management decided that KP’s career is over.

KP might have been controversial off the field, but there is no doubt he changed cricket for the better. Fast forward 15 years, everybody has an inner KP with the switch hits & aggressive mindset. Paved the way for English cricketers to join the IPL & other T20 leagues, thereby moving England one step closer to their eventual 2019 World Cup winning campaign.

Also Read: South African Cricketers Who Play For Other Countries: Labuschagne, Neil Wagner,…Can you Guess the Rest?

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6. Graeme Swann (England)

Tests: 60 Matches, 255 wickets, 29.96 average, 60.10 SR, best of 6/65 & 10/132, 4w/5w/10w – 14/17/3

ODIs: 79 Matches, 104 wickets, 27.76 average, 5/28 best, 4w/5w – 3/1

T20Is: 39 Matches, 51 wickets, 16.84 average, 3/13 best

T20s: 80 Matches, 98 wickets, 18.88 average, 3/13 best

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: January 22, 2000 (ODI), December 10-14, 2008 (Test)
  • Last Match: December 12-16, 2013 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 29 (Test), 20 (ODI)
  • Age Retired: 34
  • Why Did He Retire?

Statistically, Swann does not make the best bowlers of all-time list, but what he did in his 5-year Test career was continued the art of off-spin. After T20 cricket & ODI Powerplay rule changes, leg spinners flourished in the 2010s. Except for Daniel Vettori, finger spin was a dying art. Swann took off-spin forward and became a cog of the famed 2010-11 English lineup. Late Test debut, an elbow injury, and Johnson 2013 ensured that he retired mid-series (after the 3rd Test).

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7. Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan)

Tests: 35 Matches, 178 wickets, 28.10 average, 65.10 SR, best of 7/75 & 11/111, 4w/5w/10w – 9/10/4

ODIs: 113 Matches, 184 wickets, 22.72 average, 5/24 best, 4w/5w – 6/2

T20Is: 64 Matches, 85 wickets, 17.83 average, 4/19 best

T20s: 195 Matches, 271 wickets, 17.36 average, 4/14 best

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: July 1, 2008 (ODI)
  • Last Match: April 23, 2015 (T20I)
  • Age Debuted: 31
  • Age Retired: 37
  • Why Did He Retire?

Another one who debuted late, but made an immediate impact. From the cricketers who retired too early, Saeed Ajmal’s ending was probably the saddest. During Pakistan’s toughest days, Saeed Ajmal & Umar Gul took Pakistan to great heights, specially in T20 cricket. However it was his action that was his downfall. Unlike Mohammad Hafeez & Sunil Narine, Ajmal’s remodeled action was not effective enough without the doosra. Will definitely go down as a Pakistani great.

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8. Morne Morkel (South Africa)

Tests: 86 Matches, 309 wickets, 27.66 average, 53.30 SR, best of 6/23 & 9/110, 4w/5w – 18/8

ODIs: 117 Matches, 188 wickets, 25.32 average, 5/21 best, 4w/5w – 7/2

T20Is: 44 Matches, 47 wickets, 25.34 average, 4/17 best

T20s: 190 Matches, 207 wickets, 25.29 average, 4/17 best

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: December 25-29, 2006 (Test)
  • Last Match: March 29-April 2, 2018 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 22
  • Age Retired: 33
  • Current Age: 36
    • Plays with Brisbane Heat in the BBL; Was at Surrey from 2018-2020
  • Why Did He Retire?

When Morne Morkel left international cricket after that Australia series for the Kolpak deal in England (with Surrey), it signaled the beginning of the end of the great 2008-2015 South Africa generation. From 2015-2019, each one slowly retired, and it was painful to watch South Africa collapse to new lows. What was not painful, however, was Morne Mornel’s bowling. High arm action, pace & bounce, & most importantly, consistent line & length. Dale Steyn would not have been as successful had he not had Morne on the other end as the ideal foil. Morkel, in his own right, will go down as a South African great. With 309 wickets at age 33, who knows, he could have gone past Steyn himself. Now a resident of Australia and plays in the BBL as a local cricketer.

9. Hashim Amla (South Africa)

Tests: 124 Matches, 9282 runs, 46.64 average, 311* best, 100s/50s – 28/41

ODIs: 181 Matches, 8113 runs, 49.46 average, 159 best, 100s/50s – 27/39

T20Is: 44 Matches, 1277 runs, 33.60 average, 132.05 SR, 97* best, 50s – 8

T20s: 164 Matches, 4563 runs, 30.83 average, 126.04 SR, 104*, best, 100s/50s – 2/30

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: November 27-December 1, 2004 (Test)
  • Last Match: June 27, 2019 (ODI)
  • Age Debuted: 21
  • Age Retired: 35
  • Current Age: 38
    • Plays for Surrey in County Cricket
  • Why Did He Retire?

Fastest to 10, 15, 16,17, 18, 20, 27 centuries & 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, and 7000 ODI runs, he was the only contemporary of Virat Kohli who could challenge him. South Africa’s fall from grace was confirmed in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and it was especially painful to watch Amla being hit in the head by Jofra Archer and retiring hurt. He would retire at the end of the tournament. Sublime cricketer, wonderful human being, he still architects blockathons on the County Circuit. You just help but wonder if South Africa should have persisted a year or so more for his form to come back.

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10. AB De Villiers (South Africa)

Tests: 114 Matches, 8765 runs, 50.66 average, 278* best, 100s/50s – 22/46

ODIs: 228 Matches, 9577 runs, 49.46 average, 176 best, 100s/50s – 25/53

T20Is: 78 Matches, 1672 runs, 26.12 average, 135.16 SR, 79* best, 50s – 10

T20s: 333 Matches, 9318 runs, 37.57 average, 150.46 SR, 133*, best, 100s/50s – 4/69

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: December 16-20, 2004 (Test)
  • Last Match: March 29-April 2, 2018 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 20
  • Age Retired: 34
  • Current Age: 37
    • Plays for RCB in the IPL
  • Why Did He Retire?

Will he? Won’t he? Speculation about AB De Villiers’ retirement has been as spicy as Hollywood gossip. It all began with the ghost of 2015 semi-finals loss, which he captained. He would then get the Test captaincy job, a dream for a long time. However, workload management & administrative struggles became a hassle. Picking & choosing on a series-by-series basis followed by an indefinite break was a sign of what was to come. He came back in brilliant home with Test series against India and Australia.

However a video retirement a year before the ODI World Cup took everyone by surprise. Since then, he has been in multiple conversations about coming for the 2019 ODI World Cup or 2021 T20 World Cup, but those conversations have not gone too far. He can still be seen smashing it out of the park in the IPL. He is still fit, takes mind boggling catches, and plays match changing innings even after no game practice for a year. Although ABD & Amla played 14 years, they could have been Tendulkar-esque with a career of 17-21 years in another era.

The best batter of the generation and the face of “Cricketers Who Retired Too Early.”

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11. Graeme Smith

Tests: 117 Matches, 9265 runs, 48.25 average, 277 best, 100s/50s – 27/38

ODIs: 197 Matches, 6989 runs, 37.98 average, 141 best, 100s/50s – 10/47

T20Is: 33 Matches, 982 runs, 31.67 average, 127.53 SR, 89* best, 50s – 5

T20s: 86 Matches, 2389 runs, 29.86 average, 123.08 SR, 105, best, 100s/50s – 1/11

Cricketers Who Retired Trivia

  • Debut: March 7-11, 2002 (Test)
  • Last Match: February 27-March 4, 2014 (Test)
  • Age Debuted: 21
  • Age Retired: 33
  • Why Did He Retire?

Given captaincy at a young age, Smith began the rebuilding of a squad that would take South AFrica to #1 Test rankings. One of the best openers of this era, his courage & leadership came to the fore. Batting with a broken hand to save a Test will in fans’ memories forever. Now the director of cricket for South Africa.

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Chris Gayle (West Indies)

Tests: 103 Matches, 7214 runs, 42.18 average, 333 best, 100s/50s – 15/37

ODIs: 301 Matches, 10480 runs, 37.83 average, 215 best, 100s/50s – 25/54

T20Is: 74 Matches, 1854 runs, 29.42 average, 139.18 SR, 117 best, 100s/50s – 2/14

T20s: 446 Matches, 14261 runs, 36.94 average, 145.87 SR, 175*, best, 100s/50s – 22/87

  • Debut: September 10, 1999 (ODI)
  • Last Match: August 2, 2021 (T20I)*
  • Age Debuted: 20
  • Current Age: 42
    • Plays for RCB in the IPL, SKNP in CPL, and the West Indies

*subject to change. He is selected in West Indies’ 2021 T20 World Cup squad

Surprised? Well, you should be.

Chris Gayle is the antithesis to the 2005 generated. Debuted in 1999, and he is still playing at the age of 42. 100 Test matches, a triple century, an ODI double century, 10000 ODI runs, 14000+ T20 runs (with 22 100s!), he is a legend. So how did he survive so long even though he can barely run?

The answer is enough breaks. While the 2005 generation succumbed to continuous burnout, Gayle was in-and-out of the international side, played T20 leagues around the world, and gave up first class/Test cricket in 2014 to prolong his career. A couple of World Cup wins also helps keeping the fire going.

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The Ones Who Survived

Here is an exhaustive list of players that served between 12-15+ years in international cricket. Notice that as we get further along, the list gets smaller.

Late 90s Generation: Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid (India), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka), Ricky Ponting (Australia), Jacques Kallis (South Africa), Daniel Vettori (New Zealand), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies), Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi (Pakistan)

2000-02 Generation: Chris Gayle, Shoaib Malik (Still Playing), Brendon McCullum (NZ), Shane Watson (Australia), Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh (India), Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka), Hamilton Masakdza (Zimbabwe), Younis Khan, Misbah Ul-Haq, Shoaib Akthar (Pakistan)

2004-07 Generation: Ross Taylor (New Zealand), Brendon Taylor (Zimbabwe), Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad (England), Dale Steyn (South Africa)

The Surviving Outliers

The main point to notice here is that those who played continuous cricket from 2005-2015 retired too soon.

However, there are plenty of cricketers who did not get a chance early on or were in-and-out of their national sides, but are still available for selection today. These players include Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, and the 2004 U-19 Cricket World Cup class of Shikhar Dhawan, Fawad Alam, Mahmudullah Riyadh, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, Tim Paine, Moises Henriques, William Porterfield, Kevin O’Brien, Wahab Riaz, who are still playing competitively and are available for international selection.

Since they did not get a chance earlier or play for lower-ranked teams, they are making the most of it now when opportunities finally came their way.

Hunger for success have caused these batch of cricketers to elongate their careers. To prove themselves as long as they are fit. Or to be a part of that elusive World Cup winning team.

Why Did The 2005 Generation Fall So Quickly?

Transition Periods

If we analyze these 10 cricketers who retired too early a bit more closer, we notice they mostly feature from England, South Africa, or Australia.

All of these teams went through a traumatic transition period. The 2013-15 period was especially stressful for England. While Mitchell Johnson dismantled the entire 2013 Test generation, forcing retirements of Trott, Pietersen, & Swann, the sacking of Cook in ODIs before 2015 World Cup would usher a new era in English cricket.

For South Africa, Grant Elliot’s semi-final six broke the gem of that South African team. AB De Villiers, Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla, & Vernon Philander were never the same again.

Finally, although Australia did not have it that rough, they have not really gotten back to the Warne-McGrath days. The Clarke era was the short transition between the longer lasting, Ponting & Steve Smith eras.

Frequency of World Cups

Before the 2007 T20 World Cup, world championships only happened once every 4 years. A decade earlier, we only had the 2003/2007 ODI World Cup, 2007 T20 World Cup, and 2002/2006 Champions Trophy.

Teams were built on the premises of four-year cycles. With England & Australia, the Test Teams were formed with the next Ashes cycle in mind. Then followed 2009 (CT), 2010 (T20 WC), 2011 (CWC), 2012 (T20 WC), 2013 (CT), 2014 (T20 WC), 2015 (CWC), 2016 (T20 WC), 2017 (CT), 2019 (CWC), 2021 (World Test Championship).

Frequent trophies meant teams did not have to carry players for 4 years. An in-form player could be drafted while seasoned cricketers could be dropped with the upcoming ICC trophy in mind. Hence teams started to experiment more and started taking bold calls.

Case and point 2013 Champions Trophy—India dropped Sehwag, promoted Rohit Sharma, and went with an in-form Dhawan (seems like a history repeat itself moment with Dhawan in the 2021 T20 WC team).

Death of the All Format Player

Everything boils down to overkill of cricket and player burnout.

These cricketers who retired too early were raised on the backs of Test & ODI cricket. Almost everyone from the 90s era played both formats if they were good enough. With the entrance of T20 cricket, cricket began to be played all year long instead of season to season.

If you add captaincy to the 3 formats, that takes pressure & mental exhaustion to another level.

Openers Struggle

This still does not explain why Cook & Amla retired. They had given up captaincy towards the end, did not play all formats, and did not have new players vying for their spots either.

The obvious answer to this is form. Both Cook & Amla suffered drastic loss of forms, but so did openers worldwide.

Cook himself concluded that batting in England became tougher towards the end of his career. We can see from the Burns-Sibley partnership that it has not gotten better any since. It was not necesesarily that they were worse players, just that the conditions had become more difficult.

Kohli Shows The Way Forward

Three format players like KP and ABD prospered for a while, but it caught up with their health & form.

A decade later, it is clear that separate teams are now being picked for the 3 vastly different formats. Mental health conversations are in place. Fitness, physiotherapy, and analytics have jumped to another level altogether. Rest & rotation have been employed by certain teams to prolong the careers of cricketers.

This means that the current generation of the Fab 5 & Buttler-Stokes-Cummins-Rabada-Starc-Hazlewood-Bumrah have a better chance for longer careers and go back to the 15-year norms of the 90s. Who knows the COVID break might even have re-energized some to extend their careers.

However balance is key. Virat Kohli has already lead the way and given up IPL/T20I captaincy to manage workload and focus on other formats. If this generation of players have to survive, they might have to give up at least one format, release captaincy pressure, take mental health and paternity breaks, and keep up their fitness.

Greatness Achieved Nevertheless

Although Amla, Smith, Sehwag, Clarke, de Villiers stopped agonizingly close without reaching the coveted 10000 run-mark, it does not take away from the genius of these men.

Numbers are not everything. Although their tenure was short, their impact was not. They changed cricket for the better, and that is all that matters.

There are some players who will always give a sense that they left too early. Fans are left asking, ‘What If they had stayed on for a couple of years?’, ‘Maybe one more World Cup?’

We should just be grateful enough we witnessed some of the greatest cricketers of all time.

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© Copyright @Nitesh Mathur and Broken Cricket Dreams, 2021. Originally published on 09/23/2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Broken Cricket Dreams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content (i.e. linked to the exact post/article).




Nit X
About Nit-X 177 Articles
I dreamt of being a No. 3 batsman saving test matches and hitting winning runs. Well, that did not exactly go to plan, but I have since become an avid follower of the game. As long as there is a live cricket, you can guarantee that I will be checking the scorecards, watching the game live on TV, and certainly, discussing the game and statistics with family and friends.

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