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Ashes Masters: If you’re good enough, you’re still young enough

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Roar Rookie
8th September, 2020
70

A characteristic of cricket is that a grizzled veteran can often outplay a much younger rival. For each teenage Patrick Cummins or Doug Walters there’s an ageing Rangana Herath or Shivnarine Chanderpaul able to perform at the same or even higher level.

In recognition of contributions to the game by its elder statesmen, this article names Australian and English teams solely on the basis of each player’s performances after his 35th birthday. Understandably the player pools have great batting depth and reasonably good wicketkeeping and spin-bowling numbers but are very light in faster bowlers.

I have disregarded any all-time great who made only rare appearances or whose performances declined noticeably after that age. For example, Ricky Ponting averaged only 37 after the age of 35 five, while the last matches of WG Grace and Wilfred Rhodes were cameos.

Prior to WWII less frenetic schedules did allow players to extend careers well into middle-age. However, post-war many Australian stars retired relatively young for careers in the real world. Richie Benaud bowed out at 33, as did Alan Davidson. Nowadays that would never happen.

Since the Australian cricket went fully professional in 1997 older players have resisted retirement for longer. The past few decades have also extended careers through developments in sports science, increases in numbers of support staff and specialisation in formats.

A talented Australian can now leave school early for a rookie contract and play until delisted 15 to 20 years later. He can then ply his trade worldwide in multiple Twenty20 leagues before becoming a coach, umpire or commentator. In England that career pathway has always existed.

Here are the teams, with only performances after 35th birthdays stated. Whether home or away, Australia should win any one-off match between them. But as you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, either would certainly give any side of 20-something countrymen a run for its money.

The Ashes Urn

(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Australia

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Charlie ‘The Governor-General’ Macartney
Ten Tests, 911 runs at 75.91, five centuries, played until 40
Macartney was an aggressive top-order batsman who ended his career on a statistical high. Two days before his 35th birthday in 1921 he scored 345 in 232 minutes against Nottinghamshire. The following week, in the Test at Headingley, he scored a century in the first session of the match. His last series against England in 1926 included consecutive centuries at Lord’s, Headingley and Manchester. And while not bowling left-arm orthodox spin as often as he did pre-WWI, he also took 5-44 at Cape Town in 1921-22.

Mike ‘Mr Cricket’ Hussey
29 Tests, 2323 runs at 50.50, eight centuries, played until 37
The left-handed Hussey had to wait until the age of 30 to make his Test debut and was as effective after the age of 35 as before. His late-career innings included centuries against England (twice in 2010-11), Sri Lanka (in consecutive innings in 2011-12, and India, before concluding with three in 2012-13 against South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Michael Hussey of Australia celebrates scoring the winning runs

(Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

Sir Don Bradman (captain)
15 Tests, 1903 runs at 105.72, eight centuries, played until 39
World War II commenced when Bradman was aged only 31 and still in top form. Post-war he participated in three series, including two Ashes contests. His first two innings after the age of 35, against England in 1946-47, were 187 at The Gabba and 234 at the SCG. The former innings is most well-known for a not-out decision when Jack Ikin claimed a catch at second slip with his score on 28. His equally famous final two innings, in England in 1948, were 173 not out at Headingley to anchor a successful chase of 404 and then a second-ball duck at The Oval to leave him four runs short of a career average of 100.00.

Allan Border
41 Tests, 2473 runs at 42.63, four centuries, played until 38
The left-handed Border has played more Tests after the age of 35 than any other Australian and so gains selection despite his batting performances declining with age. His centuries included a fighting 110 against the West Indies at the MCG in 1992-93 and 200 not out at Headingley in 1993, during which he shared an unbroken 332-run partnership with Steve Waugh.

Steve ‘Tugga’ Waugh (vice-captain)
40 Tests, 2554 runs at 53.20, ten centuries, played until 38
Waugh’s run aggregate is the most by any Australian after their 35th birthday, by which time he was already a 15-year veteran. From that age he batted only at No. 5 or 6 and scored more centuries than fifties. At 36 he won the Allan Border Medal. He averaged 71.87 against the West Indies and 56.90 against England, each with three centuries. Scores of 156 not out and 100 not out in his only two innings against Bangladesh, in Darwin and Cairns in 2003, did his career average no harm.

Steve Waugh

(Clive Mason /Allsport)

Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller
14 Tests, 792 runs at 34.43, three centuries, 51 wickets at 26.66, played until 36
Unusually for a fast-bowling all-rounder Miller continued to be effective after his 35th birthday. In the West Indies in 1954-55 he took 20 wickets at 32.05 and scored 439 runs at 73.16, including three centuries. Then, in 1956 on his last tour to England, he took 21 wickets at 22.23 including a matchwinning 5-72 and 5-80 at Lord’s.

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Bert Oldfield
34 Tests, 728 runs at 19.15, 52 catches and 34 stumpings, played until 42
Oldfield was Australia’s first-choice wicketkeeper from 1920 until 1937 and arguably its greatest keeping to spin. He toured England twice and South Africa from the age of 35 and also played in two home Ashes series. His most notable innings with the bat was in Adelaide in 1932-33, when being knocked unconscious by Harold Larwood almost incited a spectator riot. After his 35th birthday he effected 22 further stumpings from the bowling of Clarrie Grimmett and five more from that of Bert Ironmonger.

Ray Lindwall
Ten Tests, 29 wickets at 28.13, played until 38
Lindwall was the greatest fast bowler of his era and named by the Australian Cricket Board in its team of the century. He played eight of his ten Tests after the age of 35 on the Subcontinent, with five matches in India and three in Pakistan. In India in 1956-57 he captained Australia in Mumbai and took 7-43 in Chennai. He continued playing for Queensland until he was aged 40.

Shane Warne
33 Tests, 181 wickets at 25.24, played until 37
Leg spinner Warne played for three summers past his 35th birthday, retiring like Glenn McGrath after Australia had regained the Ashes in 2006-07 by a 5-0 margin. During that period he took 40 wickets at 19.92 against England in 2005, including 4-116 and 6-46 at Edgbaston and 6-122 and 6-124 at The Oval.

Shane Warne pulls out a sweep shot

(Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

Glenn ‘Pigeon’ McGrath
18 Tests, 82 wickets at 22.89, played until 36
McGrath was the greatest Australian fast bowler of his era and is the first to have played 100 matches. In England in 2005 he took 19 wickets at 23.15 from three matches, including 5-53 and 4-29 at Lord’s, and his absence due to injury from the Trent Bridge and Edgbaston matches arguably cost Australia the Ashes. Against England in 2006-07 he took 6-50 at The Gabba and 3-67 and 3-38 at the SCG in his last Test. He then gained the man of the tournament award in the 2007 World Cup.

Clarrie Grimmett
33 Tests, 192 wickets at 24.66, played until 44
Grimmett was born in Dunedin on Christmas Day, debuted at 33 and played only four Tests before the age of 35. Only Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath has taken more wickets after his 35th birthday. From that point he took 18 five-fers and ten wickets in a match on six occasions. He formed outstanding partnerships with wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield and fellow great leg spinner Bill O’Reilly. In his final series, in South Africa in 1935-36, he took 44 wickets at 14.59. His first-class career spanned 30 years, from 1911-1941.

Honourable mentions (still great, but careers after 35 not quite as successful)
Matt Hayden, Warren Bardsley, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Lindsay Hassett, Adam Voges, Brad Haddin, Charlie Kelleway, Hugh Trumble, Arthur Mailey and Bert Ironmonger.

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England

Sir Jack Hobbs
33 Tests, 2945 runs at 56.63, ten centuries, played until 47
Hobbs is England’s finest-ever batsman. He played against WG Grace in 1905 and Don Bradman in 1928-29. In all first-class cricket he scored a record 61,760 runs and 199 centuries despite WWI interrupting his career for five years. He made 100 first-class centuries after the age of 40 and ten of his 15 Test tons after his 35th birthday. He is the oldest man to score a Test century, with 142 at the MCG in 1928-29 when aged 46.

Sir Geoffrey Boycott
45 Tests, 3535 runs at 47.77, ten centuries, played until 41
Boycott was one of England’s finest opening batsmen, notwithstanding a career strike rate of only 35.48 runs per 100 deliveries. His perfect technique equipped him to succeed against the best pace attacks, even in his later years. At the age of 32 he made himself unavailable for selection. He then returned against Australia three years later aged 35 with consecutive scores of 107, 80 not out and 191. The latter innings was his hundredth first-class century and made at his home ground Headingley.

Geoff Boycott.

(S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Walter Hammond (captain)
19 Tests, 1631 runs at 56.24, five centuries, played until 43
Hammond was one of England’s greatest batsmen and also an outstanding seam bowler and slip fieldsman. He was aged 36 when WWII commenced, and post-war he played briefly as a batsman. In his first innings after his 35th birthday he scored 240 against Australia at Lord’s in 1938. He subsequently scored three centuries in South Africa in 1938-39, including 140 in the Timeless Test in Durban. Unfortunately he did not enjoy a successful 1946-47 tour to Australia.

Graham Gooch (vice-captain)
52 Tests, 4563 runs at 48.54, 12 centuries, played until 41
Gooch scored more Test runs after the age of 35 than any other batsman and more runs in first-class and List A cricket combined than Jack Hobbs did at first-class level. His Test average before his 35th birthday was only 37.71. His subsequent innings included 333 and 123 against India at Lord’s in 1990, 210 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 1994, and three centuries against Australia. However, he struggled against Terry Alderman’s bowling in 1989 to the extent that he asked to be dropped from the side.

Elias ‘Patsy’ Hendren
44 Tests, 3189 runs at 53.15, seven centuries, played until 46
Hendren scored more first-class centuries than any batsman except Jack Hobbs, and only Hobbs and Frank Woolley scored more runs. Prior to his 35th birthday he scored only 336 runs at 24.00 with no centuries. Against Australia his three Test centuries comprised 127 not out at Lord’s in 1926, 169 in Brisbane in 1928-29 and 132 at Old Trafford in 1934.

Ken Barrington
21 Tests, 1731 runs at 59, six centuries, played until 37
Barrington was one of England’s finest middle-order batsmen. He retired in 1968 due to heart problems, suffered a heart attack while playing in Melbourne in 1969 and died of another one while assistant manager of England’s 1981 tour to the West Indies. His finest innings after his 35th birthday included 102 in Adelaide, 115 in Melbourne on the 1965-66 tour to Australia and three centuries at home against Pakistan in 1967.

Bob ‘Chat’ Taylor
56 Tests, 165 catches and six stumpings, played until 42
For most of his career Taylor was Alan Knott’s understudy. Despite debuting in 1970-71 at the age of 29 he did not play the second of his 56 matches until seven years later when aged 36. No wicketkeeper has made more dismissals after his 35th birthday. In Mumbai in 1980 he took seven catches in an innings and ten in the match. At Lord’s in 1986, aged 45 and two years after retiring, he briefly kept wicket as a substitute against New Zealand with captain Jeremy Coney’s consent.

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Jim Laker
14 Tests, 54 wickets at 19.94, played until 37
Laker was England’s finest off-spin bowler. After turning 35 five he took 5-17 and 3-27 against New Zealand at Headingley in 1958, then 15 wickets at 21.20 in Australia in 1958-59 with best figures of 5-107 and 2-10 at the SCG.

SF Barnes
18 Tests, 139 wickets at 14.80, played until 40
Barnes is arguably the greatest bowler of all time. When aged 38, he took 34 wickets in Australia in 1911-12. Two years later he took 49 wickets at 10.93 on matting in South Africa in 1913-14, then boycotted the series’ fifth match in protest at the standard of his family’s accommodation. At age 47 he declined a place on the Ashes tour of 1920-21 because the MCC would not pay for his family’s travel. At age 55 he took 7-51 and 5-67 to bowl Wales to victory over the West Indies in 1928. The following season he took 8-41 for Minor Counties against South Africa.

Alfred ‘Tich’ Freeman
12 Tests, 66 wickets at 25.86, played until 41
Leg spinner Freeman took 3776 first-class wickets, including 304 in 1928 aged 40 and 298 in 1933. He did not make his Test debut until the age of 36. His highlights included 5-54 and 5-39 against the West Indies at Old Trafford in 1928, 7-115 and 3-92 against South Africa at Headingley in 1929 and then 7-71 and 5-100 at Old Trafford in the same series.

James Anderson
31 Tests, 120 wickets at 21.16, still playing at 38
Anderson is these teams’ only current player. His highlights since turning 35 include 2-31 and 7-42 against the West Indies at Lord’s in 2017, 5-20 and 4-23 against India at Lord’s in 2018 and 5-40 and 2-23 in Cape Town in 2019-20. In his most recent match, only last month, he took 5-56 and 2-45 against Pakistan in Southampton.

Honourable mentions (still great, but careers after 35 not quite as successful)
Len Hutton, Herbert Sutcliffe, Frank Woolley, Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, Basil D’Oliveira, Alec Stewart, Freddie Brown, Maurice Tate, Alec Bedser and Bobby Peel.