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Over the hill?

Athletes should be the judge of when their time is up.

As retirements go, Muttiah Muralitharan's exit from test cricket's stage was almost perfect. The Sri Lankan maestro's finishing flourish was to take his 800th wicket with his last delivery, leaving an indelible if contentious mark on the game after 133 matches; importantly, though, it was his call to go and he wasn't about to bow to pressures real or perceived.

Sporting retirements don't routinely end so memorably. Athletes are often influenced in their decisions by others, which can lead to ill-conceived departures, followed, inevitably, by comebacks.

Regardless of the sport or the physical state of the athlete, once the age of 30 arrives, so do the questions about when he or she might retire. Why should it be the business of anyone other than the athlete? For some reason, though, there's an unhealthy ­fascination in seeing high-achieving sportspeople retire when there ought to be a desire to encourage them to continue as long as possible.

Just wait; any time soon someone will put forward an argument for All Black Richie McCaw to retire after Rugby World Cup 2011, on the basis he'll be able to do so after leading New Zealand to victory in the final at Eden Park, we hope. After all, McCaw will turn 30 on December 31 this year, so what would be the point in continuing beyond then? And wouldn't winning the World Cup be the ideal swansong?

New Zealand boxer David Tua has had almost everyone handing out retirement advice in the wake of his latest, admittedly shoddy, showing against veteran American heavyweight Monte Barrett.

It took acute imagination from the judges to give Tua a draw, but that wasn't the point for his critics. They saw only the quality of his performance and instantly decided his time was up.

Why should it be so? If Tua has the appetite to continue fighting, he should. It's up to him to determine whether such exposure will belittle him in the long run; in any case, it might not matter to him how the public, the media or anyone else perceives him. He should be guided by his heart and go out on his own terms when he believes the time is right.

New Zealand rugby league legend Ruben Wiki had a body of opinion running against him early in his final first-grade season in 2008. Rather than submit to it, he resisted and fashioned a glorious exit as he helped to inspire the Warriors' run in the finals. One farewell followed another, ensuring he left the game a hero.

Sadly, his contemporary Steve Price hasn't been so fortunate, with injury ruining what should have been a final season to remember for the 36-year-old. He had to concede he wouldn't play at all in 2010, yet this won't diminish the hefty contribution he has made to the game.

While those two made retirement ­decisions, their former team-mate Stacey Jones doesn't know when to stop. He finished in the NRL last year, only to continue as a 34-year-old player-coach for his old Pt Chevalier club this season, an act that underlines the selflessness that has always been an endearing trait.

Few athletes of Jones's ilk would ever consider playing at club level. Not Jones. Like Muralitharan did in quitting test cricket, it was Jones's call to carry on. He should be saluted for it, too.