Let’s pick the All-Time Greatest Middle-Aged XI

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Which cricketers performed best after the age of 35? Let’s put them into a team.

If middle-age is about anything, it’s about attributing all of the failings you already had to the ageing process.

It’s still hard to get out of bed, but now it’s because of your age. Your waist size is still bigger than you’d like, but now it’s because of your age. You still forget everything, but now it’s because of your age.

This kind of ageism is great – but not if you’re a sportsman.

Cricketers don’t get any leeway once they’re over 35. If they’re coming back from an injury or in a patch of poor form, people are quick to conclude that they’ve ‘had it’.

“His eyes are going,” they say. “The hunger’s gone. The body’s letting him down.”

More than the physical challenges, it’s this tendency to write people off that makes sustaining a Test cricket career into your late-30s and beyond such a challenge.

Age is a funny thing though. Not everyone’s affected in quite the same way.

There’s a phenomenon in amateur triathlons where age categories don’t really make much sense. As long as you’re not competing in the Olympics or anything, you’ll probably have it quite easy as a 20-something triathlete. Move into the over-40s category though and Jesus Christ…

Suffice to say, mid-life crises can drive people to astonishing feats.

So here’s our All-Time Greatest Middle-Aged XI. Unless otherwise stated, stats are for matches played after the age of 35.

1. Graham Gooch – 4,563 runs at 48.54 (12 hundreds)

No middle-aged person has made more Test runs than Goochie and 3,958 of them were made as opener.

Gooch actually made more runs after he turned 35 than before.

2. Jack Hobbs – 2,945 runs at 56.63 (10 hundreds)

Geoff Boycott is the second-highest run-scorer as a middle-aged opener with 3,535 runs at 47.77 (10 hundreds. However, we had to do something to exclude him, so we went with Jack Hobbs, who made 2,792 runs as opener at the VASTLY SUPERIOR AVERAGE of 55.84 (nine hundreds). (Obligatory mention for Vinoo Mankad too who averaged exactly 50 as an over-35 opener. He always seems to crop up in these pieces.)

Further reinforcing his case, Hobbs made eight Test hundreds in his forties and scored his final one when he was 46, which is still a record.

If the footage below was shot when he retired from first-class cricket, he’d have been 52.

He looks in decent nick.

3. Don Bradman – 1,903 runs at 105.72 (eight hundreds)

If there was one mistake Don Bradman made in his career, it was to start playing for Australia at too young an age. If there was another mistake he made, it was to retire from cricket too young.

When viewing Don Bradman’s career as a whole, we all know he is 99.94% a failure, but after the age of 35, it is equally clear that he set modern sporting standards by giving 105.72%.

4. Kumar Sangakkara – 2,528 runs at 60.19 (eight hundreds)

No-one has scored more runs at a higher average than Kumar Sangakkara after the age of 35.

5. Shivnarine Chanderpaul – 3,291 runs at 57.73 (nine hundreds)

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Precisely the same thing can be said about Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Shiv rounded off his youth by becoming Lord Megachief of Gold in 2007 and then Grand Lord Megachief of Gold in 2008, at which point he pretty much just carried on exactly the same.

Shiv’s middle-aged runs also count double because for most of that time he was playing in a team that was not actually very good at cricket.

6. Imran Khan (c) – 1,037 runs at 61.00 (two hundreds) and 51 wickets at 26.56 (two five-fors)

Only two other players have achieved the middle-aged double of taking 50 wickets and scoring over 1,000 runs after they turned 35.

One is Raymond Illingworth (1,380 runs at 25.55 and 87 wickets at 28.14). Almost inevitably, the other is Vinoo Mankad (1,313 runs at 36.47 and 88 wickets at 34.07). There really is no weirdo utility player stats table Vinoo can’t finagle his way onto. (If you’re confused by Vinoo’s batting stats here after the one we mentioned further up the page, it’s because he didn’t always play as opener.)

Imran is the prime pick here though. He can be captain too, because he’s shown he’s most definitely not averse to taking on leadership roles later in life.

7. Alec Stewart (w) – 3,310 runs at 37.19

First things first: Kumar Sangakkara did not keep wicket in a Test match after the age of 35, so don’t bother getting all ‘what about Kumar Sangakkara as keeper?’ about this. The greatest trick Kumar Sangakkara ever pulled was convincing the world all his amazing batting happened while he was still a wicketkeeper.

Only three players have made more than a thousand runs while keeping wicket after their 35th birthdays.

With 171 dismissals to Stewart’s 152, Bob Taylor arguably has the edge with the gloves. But then he only made 1,152 runs at 16.45 and that is quite a difference to Stewart’s run-scoring as keeper.

Brad Haddin, meanwhile, made 1,009 runs at 28.02. However, he is Brad Haddin and would therefore be ineligible for consideration even if his record weren’t worse than Stewart’s. Which it is. Get lost Brad Haddin. Get out of this article. You don’t belong here.

Playing as an over-35 wicketkeeper, Alec Stewart made 2,914 runs at 36.42 (he made a few hundred over-35 runs as a specialist batsman too).

Just to put that effort in context, here are some players who made fewer than 2,914 runs when playing as wicketkeeper across their entire Test careers: Dinesh Ramdin, Brendon McCullum, Moin Khan, Ridley Jacobs, Jack Russell, Ian Smith.

(Bonus factoid resulting from us forgetting to untick a box while researching this piece: Rodney Marsh and Bob Taylor are the only two designated wicketkeepers to have had a bowl after their 35th birthdays. Both bowled two overs; neither took a wicket. If you had to choose, Marsh has the better economy rate. He took 0-3 against Pakistan in 1983. The match was drawn. Trailblazer Taylor took 0-6 against India a year earlier in a match that was also drawn. England used 10 bowlers in India’s second innings. The only man who didn’t bowl was Paul Allott. We’re not exactly sure why. He bowled 31 overs in the first innings and batted, so it seems reasonable to assume that he was suffering from the wild shits. If you can find the correct Wisden, that’s definitely what it’ll say.)

8. Richard Hadlee – 820 runs at 32.80 and 116 wickets at 21.39 (11 five-fors)

Originally, we had Imran Khan down as our number eight, which left us with a fiendish and controversial choice between Misbah ul Haq (4,509 runs at 47.46, eight hundreds) or Sachin Tendulkar (4,139 runs at 49.86, (12 hundreds) for the sixth batting slot (with 14 hundreds, Younus Khan had a shot too). Then we realised that Imran’s batting was good enough to bat at six.

This meant that not only did we neatly sidestep the Misbah-or-Sachin landmine of a question, we also didn’t have to devote any paragraphs to an explanation of how Imran had edged out bowlers with better records.

With 104 wickets at 20.50, Jimmy Anderson was unlucky to miss out, but his 79 runs at 5.64 doesn’t measure up too well against Hadlee’s returns as a number eight.

9. Rangana Herath – 233 wickets at 26.83 (18 five-fors)

Shane Warne took 181 wickets at 25.24 after the age of 35 – no mean feat for a man of his diet. Clarrie Grimmett’s record is actually better still – 192 wickets at 24.66.

However, really both have to bow down to homicidal capybara, Rangana Herath, who basically played an entire massive great big Test career starting from the exact point at which everyone thought he would have retired.

Herath took more wickets after the age of 35 than Darren Gough, Steve Harmison and Vernon Philander took in their whole careers.

10. Syd Barnes – 139 wickets at 14.80 (18 five-fors)

Look at those figures. No need to overthink it.

There weren’t really any signs he was slowing down either. He took 49 wickets at 10.93 in his forties. In… four Test matches.

11. Courtney Walsh – 180 wickets at 21.61 (nine five-fors)

For understandable reasons, the fast bowling slots were the least contested.

Courtney is still the top seamer. By a fair way. If we exclude Barnes from the list because it’s not really accurate to call him a seamer, Hadlee is Walsh’s closest rival wickets-wise.

We also feel obliged to mention that Walsh made 167 runs at 4.28 after he was 35, so he actually managed to deteriorate as a batsman, which is very impressive considering how little room for manoeuvre he had in that regard.

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  1. That Gooch stat is a doozy. I turned 35 earlier this year. So far I haven’t scored any Test runs, but there’s still time.

    1. You’re certainly unlikely to score fewer than you did before your 35th birthday.

    2. Congratulations on turning 35 Sam, which if you think about it actually means congratulations on failing to drop dead before 35 Sam.

      More impressive in that regard – I turn 50 in a couple of months, 25 June in fact. So I’m much, much better than Sam at failing to drop dead, at least so far. Unfortunately, lockdowns and social distancing mean that the country won’t be able to celebrate this millstone (stet) as it would otherwise have done. So instead, here is a remember-my-bloody-birthday note masquerading as a general knowledge quiz. No googling now:

      On the day I was born, who was Prime Minister?
      And on the same day, who was President of the USA?
      What was the top three of the UK singles chart?

      1. Number three is mum’s favourite song and she worked with the guy who played bongos on number one.

        Had literally never heard of number two until today. It’s an interesting one. Faintly puzzled how it came to be number two in the charts in any era.

      2. Thanks for the memory Bert. I’ve requested that it is played at my funeral, which may be sooner rather than later.

      3. You’re vey welcome, Mrs Cricket. A fine funeral song, no doubt, in the sense that the whole point of a good funeral song is to make everyone leave scratching their heads about what aspect made you choose it. I’d go for:

        She said love, lord above
        Now you’re tryin’ to trick me in love

        I think we can all learn something from that.

      1. A teenage XI?

        ‘Working’ from home I submit this as a possibility:

        H Mohammed
        G Pollock
        M Mohammed
        Parthiv Patel (wk) – there have only been 10 teenage test match keepers.

        Vettori (12th man)

        Honourable mention to Chanderpaul, close to selection for both teams.
        There has never been a teenage test match captain so there isn’t one in this team.

      2. Taibu captained Zimbabwe at 20 and a bit, so you could swap him in for Patel.

        It looks like Rashid Khan has captained Afghanistan in ODIs and T20s as a teenager.

  2. Brian Close deserves a mention. He could be controversially left out of the teenagers XI and ludicrously included in the middle aged one.

    1. I thought that. 27 years between being called up for his first and last Test. Worth a shout for entertainment value alone

  3. I also feel Misbah-ul-haq deserves a mention, only 54 post-35 runs less than Gooch at an average of 47, and most of the time doing it while captaining Pakistan, which must count as a pretty big handicap. Can see why he doesn’t push any of the other top 6 out, but at least deserves 12th man status.

  4. You cannot go around calling over 35 `middle age’. A man is supposed to live to a hundred, so middle age is definitely 50. You are young before that, and old after. That’s it, there’s no other constructs. Imagine a hypothetical young man who is 39 dreading at the thought of next January when he will turn 40. This hypothetical young man would positively bristle at your suggestion that he is `middle aged’. And then he will type out a few angry words on his iPad. While still bristling.

    1. Such a hypothetical young man would find his sights immediately turning to 50 and “old age” next January. He should therefore welcome a chunky “middle age” period from 35 to 65, followed by a “late middle age” period the upper limit of which is yet to be defined.

      1. While this designation of periods looks decidedly like what biologists do to dinosaurs, methinks the hypothetical young man could find solace in it somehow.

    2. …middle age is definitely 50. You are young before that, and old after.

      Yeh, you think so? I’ll bloody fight you! Come on, whippersnapper, I’ll give you what for! Think I haven’t got it in me? Too old for all that, eh? Well come on then, let’s see who’s old.

  5. one always felt Gooch was born 35 and remained 35 till he reached 35. one needs visual proof to be convinced otherwise.

    1. Wouldn’t dispute that. Pretty sure he’s only aged half a year actually since too.

  6. I think I’d want to make room for Dolly, just because his entire career was middle-aged.

      1. Scandal! 35-year-old George Rogers played for the OVER 36ers. No doubt this is why the Over 36 franchise was run out of the game. (If it still matters, 7 & Absent Hurt – either shame or a pair for Lord Guernsey who was absent inbred).

        I was hoping one of the debuts was for the “Overs” but as they’ve so brazenly betrayed the game and their fans I no longer give a shit – who would trust them anyway. Glad they fucking lost.

      2. Disappointing that there wasn’t a player who started the game for the Unders and finished it for the Overs.

  7. I think the game would have been legit if it was under/over35 (those old bastards would have cheated anyhow).

  8. Interesting quite how good the batting, spin bowling, and cunning medium pace bowling of this team is. Suggests a fair few players retire or are pushed to retire too young (assuming they still enjoy playing). Anderson’s pig-headed determination on this point is rather admirable, though only possible given his extraordinary bowling in the last six or seven years.

    There might not be any real reason why there couldn’t be another Hobbs or Grace, or even Barnes, the best bowler the touring West Indies side faced in England in 1928 when he was in his mid fifties. I’m looking forward to Anderson still playing home tests in 2040.

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