Old guard in danger as baby-faced assassins circle for the kill

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 October, 1996, 12:00am

It's the fresh-out-of-diapers gang that rules, okay.

Hasan Raza had to be given time off school to play cricket for Pakistan, golfer Tiger Woods was not old enough to try his luck in the casinos after hitting the jackpot at the Las Vegas Invitational, and Andruw Jones could not go nightclubbing to celebrate his two-run homer in baseball's World Series.

While women's tennis seems to have a production line of teenaged sensations, cricket, golf and baseball are not known as kindergarten sports.

Popular wisdom has it that it takes an experienced hand to carve out runs in the Test arena, shoot in the 60s with unerring regularity on the golf circuit, and slam home runs out of the Yankee Stadium.

But Raza, Woods and Jones have disproved that theory with a solid swipe of the bat, a silken swing of the club and an almighty crack of the baseball.

When Raza was chosen to play for Pakistan against Zimbabwe, cricket correspondents thought that the management had made a mistake with his date of birth. But it was confirmed that he was a mere 14, making him the youngest Test cricketer ever.

To put the achievement into perspective, Sachin Tendulkar, acknowledged as a batting genius, was 16 years and 205 days old when he made his debut for India.

Raza scored a creditable 20 runs on the first day of play, finishing with 27, and by all accounts treated it as a schoolyard knock.

As for Woods, he has progressed from gifted amateur to hopeful Tour professional to phenomenon in a matter of months - and he's still just 20 years old.

Even given that he can drive the ball further than John Daly (Woods averaged an astonishing 323 yards in the desert air of Las Vegas) and that he putts better under pressure than Jack Nicklaus used to, Woods' age should have been enough of a handicap in his early tournaments.

But he has won twice in seven outings and is well on target to upstage Nicklaus, who lifted his first Major when 22.

With equal precociousness, Jones eclipsed the legendary Mickey Mantle when he hit a two-run homer for the Atlanta Braves in the intimidating surroundings of the Yankee Stadium.

Jones, a seedling of 19 years, six months and 28 days, took root as the youngest player to homer in a World Series, weeding out Mantle who was 20 when he achieved the feat in 1952.

But the wrinklies of the sports world don't need to despair just yet. Their champion, Australian rugby union winger David Campese, was at his irresistible best only last week when winning his 100th cap for his country.

Now, unlike Raza, Woods and Jones, Campese is old and carefree enough to party before and after his big day.

Campese had a few beers to celebrate his 34th birthday on the eve of the Italy clash, and shrugged off suggestions that it wasn't the ideal preparation for his centenary.

'Why not? Can't I celebrate with old friends? I'm Australian. No problem,' said Campese, in his goose-stepping manner of speech which mirrors his tackle-evading trickery.

Of course you can mate - just watch out for the fresh-out-of-diapers gang.