Can Professional Cricketers play into their 40s?

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Written by Josh Winter

Really since the turn of the century, we have seen more and more sportsmen and sportswomen play into later ages. With better healthcare and nutrition, sportspeople are able to take care of their bodies later and later. Darren Stevens is the obvious example of this, having just been a key member of Kent winning the Blast. So it bring up an interesting point, which is whether or not professional cricketers can play into their 40s.

The case for cricketers playing into their 40s has been backed up a lot recently by performances in domestic and international cricket by a variety of players. Darren Stevens is a good example of a player in his 40s, still performing at a high level in domestic cricket. Stevens produced a match winning performance in the blast semi final against Sussex, hitting an impressive 47 off 28 as he got his side up to 168. He backed that performance up with his bowling, getting a big wicket in Sussex batsmen David Wiese. Stevens is quite easily old enough to be the father of a lot of his teammates, starting his county championship career before teammates Zak Crawley and Jordan Cox were born. 

Stevens has never played for England, but he is widely regarded as the greatest English all rounder to never play for his country. Averaging 35 with the bat and 24 with the ball across its career means it’s tough to see why he has never been called up, but Stevens is a great example of age being irrelevant in domestic cricket. There aren’t many examples of players in county cricket playing above 40, with Stevens being the first 45 year old to play county championship cricket since Eddie Hemmings back in 1994. 

Tim Murtagh is another good example, as he is captain of Middlesex at the age of 40. The problem with county championship games is it can be very difficult on the body. Four day matches are tough for players in their 40s, with the potential for whole days to be spent out in the field. Fielding is the main problem, as it can be extremely tiring for players, and the long season is tough for their bodies. County championship teams play around 14 games a year, which can be up to four days long. It is very difficult for players to keep up when their bodies are struggling to cope with the intense workloads.

Something that you will see a lot more often is players in their 40s playing T20 cricket. T20 cricket is a lot less challenging on the body, as these players have a lot less to do. It is why you see players like AB De Villiers, Andre Flintoff and Shane Warne only play T20 cricket at the end of their careers. T20 gives these players a format which is a lot less challenging on their bodies, as games go from being 4 days to 4 hours. At the moment, looking at this years blast, you saw Gareth Batty, Darren Stevens and Ryan ten Doeschate all still performing to a high level in the blast, with Stevens being the only one of still play county championship games. 

The IPL seems to be a place where legends play when they’re still over 40 years old. Australian legends Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne both played in the IPL aged 41. Legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan played in the IPL aged 42, with his last season being in 2014 for Royal Challengers Bangalore. The most impressive of any would be Australian spinner Brad Hogg. Hogg played in the IPL with Kolkata in 2016, aged 45. You will often see spinners play to later ages, as shown by Warne, Hogg and Muralitharan all playing in the IPL past 40. Spin bowling is a lot less stressful on the body than fast bowling. We see pace bowlers like Mark Wood throw their bodies into every ball, putting an incredibly large amount of force through their knees and ankles every ball.  Spinners don’t have the same amount of force going through their bodies as they bowl. This means they can continue to bowl at a later age without losing any of what makes them a great bowler. It is one of the reasons why Darren Stevens has taken so many wickets still in his 40s, he never relied on blistering pace to get wickets when he was younger. Therefore he could continue to bowl the same way even when his body started to get slower. This is why you will see spin bowlers continue to play further into their 30s and 40s than pace bowlers.

In International cricket, there are still currently very few players playing into their 40s. Chris Gayle and Mohammad Hafeez are good examples of that currently. Both in the squads for their countries for the t20 world cup later this year, both are still playing to an exceptionally high level. Chris Gayle still possess the power hitting that has made him a monster over his career. Hafeez is still an excellent all rounder and there are a lot of teams worldwide who would love to have the 40 year old in their team. Both are great examples that cricketers can play into their 40s, even in international cricket. The 2019 world cup saw 40 year old Imran Tahir pick up 11 wickets in the tournament for South Africa, including getting England captain Eoin Morgan out. T20 cricket has shown to be a good place for aging cricket stars. International cricket can be good for stars, especially T20.

However, something you see a lot less of is players in their 40s succeeding in test cricket. You can see this in domestic cricket, as the county championship has talented players like Hashim Amla and Alastair Cook succeeding, when they have been out of test cricket for a few years. Amla and Cook are both still playing at a high quality, but they both also are unlikely to be able to play well in test cricket. Test cricket is incredibly tough on the body, with a five match series being really tough on the body. Currently, test cricket does not have anyone playing at the age of 40 or over. Dilruwan Perera and Jimmy Anderson are the closest to 40, both playing test cricket at the grand age of 39. It is an impressive feat, specifically for Anderson, who is still England’s best pace bowler despite his age. Jimmy is truly a phenomenal cricketer, and he has expressed his interest in playing into his 40s. Jimmy wants to be playing in the ashes later this year, and even carry on beyond the series. It is a difficult thing to do, as your body will deteriorate. There is no way Anderson plays all five tests this winter, and he will need the rest he has now before the ashes.

Sadly, the main reason for cricketers struggling to play into their 40s is injury. Injuries become more and more common the older you get, as players bodies just start to age and wear. Injuries have plagued Anderson over the last few years, and it seems unlikely he can make it into his 40s without more injuries. It is why many players avoid the longest form of the game as a whole when they age, because it is incredibly testing on your body. Fast bowlers especially have to be wary of this. Just looking at England’s fast bowling attack, we have seen injuries to Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes just in the last 12 months. Injuries can ruin careers. Sadly, Dale Steyn is a great example of this. Steyn retiring from test cricket two years ago was a big disappointment for cricket faans, but the fast bowler just could not stay healthy. No matter the advancement we see in nutrition and wellness, injuries will still happen. They are tough to avoid and can make it very difficult to still play at a high level into your 40s. There is no way that after his serious injury this year that Jofra Archer will still be able to play in his 40s. It is a lot easier for spinners and batsmen to still succeed during their 40s.

Players like Darren Stevens, Chris Gayle and Jimmy Anderson are showing that you can play at a high level in all different formats, as you begin to hit your 40s and even get into your mid-40s. It will continue to become easier, as treatment and healthcare continues to improve. Hopefully for these players, the intensity of cricket is not increasing more than the improvements in taking care of these players bodies. It gives a lot of hope to amateurs or semi pro players, as they can still take that step into professional career, into their 30s and even early 40s. This trend will likely continue and more and more cricketers will play into their 40s.

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