What the World Cup delay means for these star veterans

With a handful of legends eyeing off the 2020 World Cup as a swansong, here’s what the postponement of the tournament could mean

With confirmation the next global men's tournament won't be held for another 15 months, several of the game’s veterans may be reassessing their career plans this week.

A World Cup can be a natural end point for some players and also result in a changing of the guard for a team; four players finished their careers after Australia’s 2015 ODI World Cup win, and several others soon after.

The International Cricket Council confirmed this week that this year's scheduled 2020 World Cup would be postponed from its October-November window, with the next tournament to be held in those same months in 2021.

With that in mind – and without wishing anyone into an early retirement – we look at how some of the game's senior players are placed.

MS Dhoni

The India superstar has been fielding questions about his retirement for years now – most notably when he sat down with cricket.com.au journalist Sam Ferris at the last men's T20 World Cup in 2016 – and speculation continues to follow the 39-year-old's every move.

The ongoing speculation is a sign of the adoration the Indian public has for him – there will be an inevitable outpouring of tributes whenever he does officially hang up the gloves – and also a product of the way he announced his shock retirement from Test cricket after the 2014 Boxing Day Test.

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Dhoni hasn't played a match for his country since India's exit at last year's ODI World Cup but will turn out for his beloved Chennai Super Kings later this year if the IPL, as expected, fills the void left by the postponed T20 World Cup.

Dhoni only recently turned 39, so would be 40 before the 2021 T20 World Cup begins. If that event is confirmed to be hosted by India, it may prove the perfect swansong to an extraordinary career, provided he can win back his place as wicketkeeper and middle-order finisher.

AB de Villiers

South Africa's superstar batsman was set to end his self-imposed exile from international cricket at this year's T20 World Cup. Indeed, that was a key reason for his participation in last summer's KFC BBL, where he showed glimpses of his best with the Brisbane Heat.

De Villiers, who retired from international cricket in 2018, was sorely missed by the Proteas as last year's 50-over World Cup, having left his decision to make himself available far too late to be practical.

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He played in South Africa's experimental ‘3TC’ event last week, smashing a rapid 61 to guide his side to the title.

"Once I got started it was like riding that bicycle that I missed so badly,” he said. "Now that I’ve started, I am definitely going to keep in the mix of practising and try to get that form at the top level of what I can be."

Speaking about his return to international cricket before the World Cup was officially postponed, the 36-year-old said: 'Obviously I would just like to get out there and play cricket. There are lots of talks, but in the meantime, I will stay fit in the gym and hit cricket balls. Hopefully the virus moves on and we can get back to as normal as possible in no time."

The Brisbane Heat have had preliminary discussions about a return for the South African this season, but it remains unclear if he would participate if the league proceeds with a draft system for overseas players.

Lasith Malinga

The iconic Sri Lanka speedster had already hinted the now postponed T20 World Cup would be his swansong from international cricket.

"My only target is to be able to play the qualifying round at the World Cup," Malinga said in January ahead of a T20 against India.

"If I play the qualifying round and the Sri Lanka team qualify for the World Cup (Super 12 stage), after that, I wouldn't mind any time I retire.

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"I've already retired from Tests and one-dayers. It's about whatever is required for Sri Lanka cricket. If they say it's enough for me now, then I'll be really happy to retire from T20 cricket also."

Malinga has 390 wickets in his T20 career, domestic and international, with 107 of them coming in international cricket, making him the format's most prolific bowler.

He was part of the 2014 side that won the T20 World Cup and captained his country in a three-match T20 series in Australia last November that they lost 3-0.

Shoaib Malik

Pakistan's 38-year-old talisman has been included in the national side that will play a T20 series in England next month, but the right-hander with 113 T20 international caps will be close to 41 when the next T20 World Cup gets underway.

Malik has been a mainstay of Pakistan teams since his debut last century – that's right, his first international cricket was in 1999 – but he’s yet to offer any indication about when the end may come.

Chris Gayle

If you ask the self-proclaimed Universe Boss how long he thinks he will play on for, he's more likely to tell you he's got eyes on the 2031 World Cup than concede the end is near.

T20 cricket's most prolific run-scorer has played surprisingly few international matches in the shortest format – just 58 of them, which have yielded two centuries as part of 1627 runs at a strike rate of 142.84.

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All up he's played more than 400 T20 matches around the globe, from the Afghanistan Premier League to Zimbabwe's domestic T20 competition, and pretty much every league imaginable in between, although he hasn’t played for the Windies in a year.

He boasts 22 centuries T20 cricket, a record high of 175 not out (from 66 balls), and career strike rate of 146.94 for his 13,296 runs.

It's been a phenomenal career. Guessing when it might end is fraught with danger, but we'll just enjoy it while it lasts.

Imran Tahir

South Africa leg-spinner retired from ODI cricket after last year's 50-over World Cup but has expressed a desire to carry on in T20 cricket.

"Cricket South Africa has allowed me to go and play around the world in various leagues but I would also love to play T20 cricket for South Africa," he said when announcing his ODI retirement.

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"I think I have the ability and can play a role in T20 cricket for South Africa. I am grateful for the opportunity."

Tahir played domestic T20 cricket in the Caribbean, South Africa and Pakistan before the COVID-19 pandemic hit but was left out of South Africa's international side that played T20s against England and Australia in February this year.

Dale Steyn

Similar to Tahir, the 37-year-old seamer has expressed a desire to continue representing South Africa in international cricket but had openly flagged his intent to call time on his international career after the now-postponed T20 World Cup.

With the tournament now pushed back 12 months, and another one 12 months after that, it remains unclear what Steyn's plans will be, and it may well hinge on where the two tournaments land. A 2021 tournament in India, notably unfriendly to pace bowlers, is possibly less enticing for Steyn.

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"This one would be a nice one to go to and then finish off and reassess after the end of this year and then I will kind of figure out what I want to do," Steyn said in February.

Injury prevented him from being at his best when turning out for the Melbourne Stars in last summer's KFC BBL, and he remains a contender to return this year but will also be keen to play in the local Mzansi Super League tournament, which is yet to be confirmed for the 2020-21 summer.

Dwayne Bravo

The West Indies allrounder recently ended his long exile from the national side with a view to playing a key role at this year’s T20 World Cup.

It’s yet to be seen what the tournament’s postponement means for the Trinidadian, who will be 38 during the tournament next year.

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The veteran has shown no signs recently that he’s lost any of the skill and guile that has landed him close to 500 career wickets in T20s, but we’ll have to wait and see if the 12-month delay will have any impact on his plans at international level.

Shakib Al Hasan

Bangladesh's star allrounder is 33 years old but unlikely to be hanging up the boots any time soon. In fact, the postponement of this year's T20 World Cup is a major boost for Shakib, and Bangladesh cricket.

A star at last year's ODI World Cup where he finished the third-highest run scorer, the Bangladeshi was given a hefty two-year ban in October 2019 for failing to report approaches from a bookmaker. The second year of that sentence was suspended so he will be eligible to play international cricket again from October this year.

However, the ban would not have elapsed in time for him to play in Bangladesh's group stage games if the T20 World Cup had gone ahead this year, but its postponement clears the way for him to return in the tournament next year.

And what about the Aussies?

David Warner has previously hinted he may step away from T20 international cricket to prolong his career in the other forms of the game, but it remains to be seen if he will revisit that decision in the wake of the tournament being moved.

Warner had suggested he would consider stepping away from the format after the 2021 tournament, but now with another event to be played in 2022 – and with clear ambitions to play in the 2023 ODI World Cup in India – the hard-hitting opener may play on.

National T20 captain Aaron Finch is, like Warner, already 33 and the pair are the elder statesmen in the Australian team. Form and fitness pending, Finch is sure to play on, and also has his eyes set on the 2023 ODI World Cup.

With the T20 World Cup pushed back 12 months, the Aussies are more likely to have people buoyed by the extra time to push their case for inclusion. Josh Hazlewood spoken openly about that ambitions this week, saying: "The further it gets pushed back the more it gives me a chance to play that format of the game and hopefully do well, it's a positive for me."