Fewer forties allowed to roar in young man's world

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Professional cricketers appear to be getting younger. Not as young as policemen, but definitely not as old as they once were. This can only be for the good of the game, which is always attracting complaints that too many gnarled, seasoned pros hang around keeping youngsters waiting because they have no other job to go to.

Professional cricketers appear to be getting younger. Not as young as policemen, but definitely not as old as they once were. This can only be for the good of the game, which is always attracting complaints that too many gnarled, seasoned pros hang around keeping youngsters waiting because they have no other job to go to.

But a survey covering the past half-century shows that cricket teams are no longer overburdened with enough senior professionals to bankrupt a pension fund. It is a vaguely unscientific kind of survey of the sort to make Messrs Mori and NOP blanch but, as conducted by the Diary, it reveals a definite trend.

Half-a-century ago there were 15 cricketers aged 40 or above in the English game. The oldest of them all was Tom Goddard, who was 50 in October, 1950. The Gloucestershire off- spinner showed his years that summer, too, taking a mere 137 wickets, when in the previous summer he had taken 160 and topped the averages.

Of course, 1950 is an unfair comparison because so many players were trying to extend careers which had been interrupted by the war. The other 40-year-olds about then included the Langridge brothers of Sussex, James and John, former England captain Bob Wyatt of Worcestershire, who was 49, and Denis Smith of Derbyshire.

The decline has begun to show in the past three decades. The survey examined four years, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000, recording the number of players on counties' books who were 35 or older at the start of the season.

In 1970 there were 34 players who were 35 or more, six of whom had reached their 40th birthday. The oldest was Tom Graveney, who turned 43 that June. There were two 39-year-olds, four players who were 38, nine each who were 37 and 36, and four at 35.

By 1980, the number of players above 35 had risen to 35, but only two of them were 40: Ken Higgs, 43, of Leicestershire, and Alan Jones, 41, of Glamorgan. Ten were 39, three were 38, nine were 37, four were 36 and seven were 35.

Ten years later, in 1990, there had been a definite downward movement at last. There were six 40-year-olds still playing, but the total above 35 had gone down to 28. David Hughes of Lancashire was the oldest at 42, and he played 18 first-class matches that summer.

And so to 2000, amid a general feeling that the game still does not favour young men. But there has been a significant fall among the older generation in 10 years. There are now 22 over-35s, only one of whom could be said to be above 40 at the season's start (Peter Hartley had his birthday on 18 April). Kim Barnett of Gloucestershire will be 40 in July.

There is only one 38-year-old (Alan Wells), there are three players of 37, eight of 36 and seven of 35. Only three of the bunch are specialist seam bowlers - Hartley, Devon Malcolm and Paul Taylor, who has yet to appear for Northamptonshire this season. Looking down the list, the majority still deserve to be playing.

Some should be asking themselves why they are sticking around, and they know who they are. But youth for its own sake is no good at all. It is oft quoted that Jack Hobbs made more of his 197 hundreds after he was 40 than before. Different age, different game, but the old 'uns still have their place. The bad old 'uns are gradually being weeded out.

That unbeaten first-wicket stand of 406 for Notting-hamshire the other day broke all sorts of records. Most of them have already been chronicled, though its perpetrators, Darren Bicknell and Guy Welton, discovered pretty soonafterwards that the game remains the master.

After scoring, respectively, 180no and 200no against Warwickshire, they were dismissed for 12 and three in the next match, against Worcestershire.

It was the 15th stand of more than 400 in England and only the second in which neither partner had played Test cricket. The first also involved Bicknell, who put on 413 with David Ward for Surrey against Kent in 1990. Bicknell is thus the only Englishman to have shared in two partnerships above 400 - his earlier one was for the third wicket. Frank Worrell is the only cricketer to have been involved in two above 500, and four other players, inevitably including Don Bradman, have twice shared stands of more than 400.

BOOK MARK

The world could probably have done without another biography of Geoff Boycott. But Boycs, by Leo McKinstry (Partridge, £16.99), delves into his life, both personal and cricketing, until now. The book is even-handed, well-researched and McKinstry, with no axes to grind, has spoken to all manner of people. The story from Frank Hayes about how Lancashire used to try to keep Boycott in during Sunday League matches is particularly telling. A thorough study then, but nowhere near as entertaining as the late Don Mosey's 1985 hatchet job.

Man in the middle

Until now, the admirable Mike Denness was remembered as the poor sap whose Test career was blown away by Lillee and Thomson in their full 1974-75 glory. Until now. Denness, in his guise as pitch liaison officer, has ridden into town, or at least Derby, and deducted eight points for preparing a poor pitch under regulation 41 of the playing conditions governing the County Championship. Had Denness declared the Derby wicket unfit they would have been docked 20 points. More please.

Comments