Cricket Diary: A game fortified by the over-forties

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The Independent Online
FORTY summers ago 22 men aged 40 or more were still playing county cricket. This season, assuming Allan Lamb struggles on after achieving this state of cricketing maturity in June, the number will be seven.

It was different then, of course. The one-day game was yet to be invented, proceedings in the field were conducted at a far more leisurely pace and players robbed by the war of their best years were no doubt keen to extend their careers.

Yet from the volleys of casual criticism which have been fired this year, it would be easy to assume that the figures had been reversed and that ageing players were dominating the English game in a deliberate ploy to halt the advance of resplendent youth.

Graham Gooch's recall by England and the inclusion of Eddie Hemmings in the Sussex side have been particularly questioned by some observers, as though growing old as a cricketer should be discouraged like under-age drinking.

The only one of the septet not to have played a Test is David Graveney, at 41 still playing an important role for Durham. Anybody who thinks statistics are meaningless to cricketers should have heard Graveney discoursing gently to reporters the other day, with a hint of justified pride, on his place in the age pecking order.

At the top is Hemmings, 45, who first delivered medium pace for Warwickshire in 1966 and could probably wheel away with his off-breaks till he was 50 unless flogging (to the boundary, naturally) has by then been suggested as a deterrent to these veteran chappies. Then come John Childs, 42, John Emburey, 41, Graveney, Gooch, Wayne Larkins, both 41 shortly, and Lamb.

Back in 1954 the eldest among the two full teams of players the over-40s could have fielded was the 44-year-old Sussex batsman John Langridge. Not much younger at 43 was Norman Oldfield, of Northamptonshire, who played his penultimate match in May, scoring a hundred out of 180 at The Oval. In his final innings he made an obdurate 57 in three hours against his former county Lancashire, and three weeks later was back at the Oval as a first-class umpire.

The number of over-40s - perhaps like golfers they could form their own circuit - appears finally to have fallen dramatically. In 1964 there were 16, in 1974 there were only 12, in 1984 they made a comeback with 17. It is good company to be in. Names like Illingworth, Titmus and Bolus, now Test selectors all, feature in the list, and of the last 22 England captains 12 have played beyond their 40th birthdays. Which gives the 22nd, the present incumbent, 14 birthdays to go.

SIXTY years ago yesterday Jack Hobbs played, as he had promised, in the wicketkeeper George Duckworth's testimonial match at Old Trafford for Surrey against Lancashire. It was as cold as it has been this May. Hobbs made 116. It was his 197th and last first-class hundred. He was aged 51 years and 163 days. The following summer he wrote in Wisden that the strain of the game day after day had been getting a little too much for him and with younger players knocking at the door he felt it did not become him to stand in their way.

The Master said that he had hoped to make 200 centuries but added: 'Records are after all ephemeral; they are only made to be beaten by somebody else, and while it is nice to achieve something out of the common, there are other and more important considerations to bear in mind.'

Which, doubtless, given his enviably dignified bearing, the superlative Brian Lara will do as records tumble before him - though probably not that one - in the next decade.

IMRAN KHAN has written an open letter to Derek Pringle to discuss their mutual interest in ball tampering. Imran, you may have heard, is at the centre of something of a dispute after the publication of his biography in which he admits that once during his illustrious career he scratched a ball with a bottle top.

Pringle, you may recall, wrote in his first article as this newspaper's cricket correspondent that he had once been guilty of tampering himself, during his old side Essex's match against the Australians in 1985 when the umpire changed the ball.

Imran's letter - 'I have always admired your guts more than your ability,' he tells our man Pringle - covers old ground on the issue but he ends with a jolly good question: 'How come you got away scot-free for admitting to ball tampering while I am supposed to have committed almost a capital offence?'

QUOTE of the week: 'It's the last thing they wanted, their leading batsmen getting a couple of blobs and their main bowler pulling a pup somewhere.' - One of the myriad former players (oh, all right, it was Mike Hendrick) now queueing up to opine on the game on the radio and ensuring that the traditions of language and description as established by Arlott and Johnston have been passed into safe hands. For the uninitiated, a pup is a muscle.

TWELFTH MAN

STUART TURNER, the former Essex all-rounder, was 12th man in the bowling averages in 1969. He played until he was 43, will still turn out for Cambridgeshire in the Minor Counties Championship this summer at the age of 50, and says: 'It took me a couple of years to adjust after retiring to be a school coach. I missed it like mad. There's certainly scope for older players in the game if they look after themselves. It might affect your fielding abilities a bit in chasing and getting down to balls but experience blended with youth can be a great asset.'

(Photograph omitted)

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