Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are all smiles after Pakistan's win

Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have nearly 5000 Test runs between them since they turned 35

© AFP
15

Stats feature

Older, wiser, deadlier

There was a time when turning 35 foreshadowed retirement. Now it could mean the start of a golden phase

S Rajesh and Shiva Jayaraman |

The 2010s has been a decade for senior batsmen in Test cricket. Many have shown that advancing age has no correlation with diminishing returns in this format; if anything, there has been a reverse correlation with age. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis are among the batsmen who have demonstrated that the gains in experience far outweigh the age-related handicaps of poorer hand-eye coordination and slower movements.

For any sportsman, the effects of age on skill are a concern, but in cricket, the fact that two completely different skill sets are required means these effects don't apply equally to batsmen and bowlers. Batting is an art where you need time to mature - the skill to bat long periods calls for great powers of concentration, which can only be honed through hours of practice and regular match play. An age of around 32 is reckoned to be the best for batsmen, but in the current decade, older has definitely been better. Since 2010, batsmen over 35 have averaged 43.36, which is much higher than the averages for the same age group in earlier decades. It is also higher than other age groups have averaged in this decade, and by a significant margin as well.

Batsmen over 35 in each decade since 1970
Decade Innings Average 100s 50s
  2010s  836  43.36  89  154
  2000s  937  35.34  68  130
  1990s  783  34.97  47  121
  1980s  744  32.45  37  97
  1970s  508  30.98  25  63

Batsmen of different age groups in the 2010s
Age group Innings Average 100s 50s
  Below 20  55  18.69  0  5
  Between 20 and 25  1763  29.72  85  206
  Between 25 and 30  3262  31.62  187  410
  Between 30 and 35  2189  32.94  131  287
  Above 35  824  43.60  89  152

The 2010s has also been a period when several batting greats have gone past the age of 35, and haven't let their age affect their run-scoring. Eight batsmen in this period have scored 2000-plus Test runs after turning 35, and seven of them have averaged more than 50 while doing so; the only exception is Rahul Dravid, and he averaged a pretty healthy 46.18.

There is little doubt that most international players above the age of 35 have plenty of ability - else they wouldn't have lasted that long - but they are also often subject to greater scrutiny, and have a smaller margin for error. Losses of form that would in a younger player pass off as a temporary are thought to be symptoms of an age-related - and hence irreversible - decline.

The key for batsmen is to ensure they do enough in the first six years so that the selectors keep faith in them; the good ones invariably manage to do so

Between 2000 and 2009, only three players - Steve Waugh, Brian Lara and Alec Stewart - scored 2000-plus Test runs after turning 35, and two of them, Lara and Waugh, averaged more than 50. In the current decade, older players have proved to more durable.

Batsmen who have scored 2000-plus Test runs after turning 35 in the 2010s
Player Matches Runs Average 100s 50s
  KC Sangakkara  21  2433  65.75  8  13
  Younis Khan  21  2058  60.52  9  3
  S Chanderpaul  41  3198  60.33  9  13
  JH Kallis  26  2163  56.92  10  5
  Misbah-ul-Haq  39  2916  55.01  6  24
  MEK Hussey  29  2323  50.50  8  9
  SR Tendulkar  38  2951  50.01  8  14
  R Dravid  27  2032  46.18  8  5

You would think age might be a bigger handicap for bowlers than it is for batsmen. Stats clearly show that fewer bowlers have managed to extend their careers for a reasonable period beyond 35; players tend to know that their powers are waning and quit before they are pushed, while selectors tend to be less patient with bowlers than they are with batsmen. Since 2000, bowlers over the age of 35 have picked up less than a seventh of the wickets taken by those between the age of 25 and 29.

Like fine wine: Courtney Walsh took an astonishing 180 wickets after he turned 35, including 93 in his last two years, 2000 and 2001

Like fine wine: Courtney Walsh took an astonishing 180 wickets after he turned 35, including 93 in his last two years, 2000 and 2001 © Getty Images

However, some great bowlers have managed to defy Father Time, performing at very close to peak levels even when older. Which is why the overall average for bowlers over 35 since 2000 is a highly respectable 32.30 (see table below). That is better than the averages for bowlers between 20 and 29, and very nearly as good as those between 30 and 35. The big reason for this: very few bowlers manage to survive that long, and those who do are clearly a special lot.

Bowlers of different age groups in Tests since 2000
Age group Wickets Average SR 5WI 10WM
  Below 20  360  45.00  76.09  13  1
  Between 20 and 25  4858  37.35  68.00  183  16
  Between 25 and 30  8963  33.51  64.80  327  48
  Between 30 and 35  5388  32.00  65.09  232  38
  Above 35  1176  32.29  67.80  56  11

Since 2000, only five bowlers have taken 75-plus wickets in Tests after turning 35, and four of them averaged less than 30 in doing so. Courtney Walsh took 180 Test wickets post 35 - third only to Clarrie Grimmett and Shane Warne in the all-time list - but 93 of those wickets came after 2000, at an average of less than 20. Glenn McGrath and Warne were outstanding too, while Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble round off a list of greats.

Bowlers who have taken 75-plus Test wickets after turning 35, since 2000
Player Mat Wkts Ave SR 5WI 10WM
  CA Walsh  20  93  19.73  57.20  5  1
  GD McGrath  18  82  22.89  54.80  4  0
  SK Warne  33  181  25.24  50.90  10  2
  M Muralitharan  23  126  28.02  58.20  10  3
  A Kumble  35  154  33.47  66.09  6  1

The stock of 35-plus batsmen has been rising over the years: in the 1970s they averaged 31, and since then there has been a steady rise each decade. Another indication of their rise is the percentage by which they have exceeded the overall average in each decade: in the 1970s they were 0.7% above the overall average (30.98 to 30.76); in the 1980s it went up to 6.5% above average; in the 1990s to 18.8%; in the 2000s to 10.4%; and in the 2010s to 32.4%. In no other age group has there been a constant increase in averages over the last four and a half decades.

Since 2010 eight batsmen have over 2000 Test runs after turning 35, and seven of them have averaged more than 50 while doing so

The 30-34 age group has consistently done well too: in the 2000s they had the best average among all age groups, thanks to batsmen like Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Dravid, Kallis, Lara, Chanderpaul and several others. Many of them moved to the next age category in the 2010s, and kept the flag flying for the 35-pluses. With most of them retired now, it is time for the next generation to move through the ranks and step up.

For bowlers, the best age category over the last few decades has been 30-34. In the 1970s, the younger lot did much better than the rest, but gradually, with better training techniques, more and more bowlers have been able to delay the inevitable. At around 30, bowlers have the benefit of understanding their game and their body better, thanks to having spent a few years on the international circuit, and also to maintaining or improving their fitness levels. That has generally worked well for bowlers in the 30-34 group: since 1980, they have averaged 31.17 runs per wicket, compared to 32.30 for bowlers in the 25-29 category. The latter group, though, has significantly more wickets - 16,756 to 9603 - implying that not all bowlers are able to maintain their rate of success in their 30s.

The experience factor
You would assume that players have already played a few Tests by the time they turn 30, but that depends on the age they debut. Alastair Cook had played 109 Tests by the time he turned 30, while Tendulkar had 105, but Paul Collingwood had played only ten, Dean Jones 11, and Michael Hussey made his Test debut after turning 30.

From the ages of 29 to 33, Rahul Dravid averaged 66

From the ages of 29 to 33, Rahul Dravid averaged 66 © Getty Images

Data over the last few decades suggests that batsmen come into their own only after playing around 60 Tests. That is at least around five to six years into a batsman's career, which suggests selectors need to back a player over a reasonable amount of time to be able to see the best. Dravid, for example, averaged almost 51 in the first six years (age 23 to 29) of his career, in 55 Tests, but then lifted his game to a different level in the next four years, averaging 66 in 46 matches; during this period he averaged 100 in wins, 92 in Australia and 100 in England. Sangakkara, another who debuted at around 23, averaged about 47 in his first 60 Tests - over six years - but since then has averaged more than 67 in 72 matches. The key for batsmen is to ensure they do enough in the first six years so that the selectors keep faith in them; the good ones invariably manage to do so.

Batsmen, grouped by Test experience, since 1990
Matches Runs Average
 Less than 30  4,99,923  26.88
 Between 30 and 60  2,42,354  34.15
 Between 60 and 90  1,49,784  41.06
 Between 90 and 120  74,745  41.36
 Over 120  33,845  42.79

For the bowlers, age and experience helps to a degree. The first 30 Tests aren't usually very productive, but thereafter the averages improve quite dramatically. Since 1990, bowlers have averaged 35 in their first 30 Tests, a little more than 31 in their next 30, and slightly over 28 between Tests 61 and 120.

However, a vast majority of bowlers playing during this period have between one and 30 Tests' worth of experience - such bowlers have taken more than one and a half times the wickets that the other four categories put together have taken. That is more than the corresponding ratio for batsmen, but it is to be expected. Bowlers don't usually last as long as batsmen.

The old bird gets the worm: Glenn McGrath took 82 wickets in 18 games after turning 35

The old bird gets the worm: Glenn McGrath took 82 wickets in 18 games after turning 35 © Getty Images

One of the few bowlers who maintained his effectiveness right through a long career was McGrath. He averaged 25.48 in his first 29 Tests, but then moved up a gear and stayed there, averaging 20.59 through his next 95 Tests. James Anderson averaged 35.42 through his first 36 Tests, but since then his average has dropped to 26.91 in the next 68; the challenge for him is to maintain those numbers through the rest of his career. Dale Steyn picked up the tricks of the trade a little quicker: he averaged 25.25 in his first 16 Tests but has averaged 21.91 in his next 62.

Bowlers, grouped by Test experience, since 1990
Matches Wickets Average
 Less than 30  19,641  34.99
 Between 30 and 60  6539  31.46
 Between 60 and 90  2920  28.37
 Between 90 and 120  1380  28.39
 Over 120  419  32.29

The age-experience combination
The numbers grouped by age and experience yield two different sets of data. So let us use both filters and see which intersection of data yields the highest averages.

Taking 1970 as the starting point and grouping by age and match experience, the set with the best average is players in the 35-plus age group in the 2010s with an experience of more than 120 games. It has already been established that we have seen some truly great batsmen all nearing the end of their careers in this period, and almost none has seen his abilities diminish with age. Many among this group were also in their early 30s in the previous decade (2000-2009), which explains the high averages for players in the 30-34 age group who played 91 to 120 Tests in the noughties.

Between those two rows, though, is some data that shows the emergence of the next lot of talented batsmen: in the 2010s, players aged between 25 and 29, with experience of 61 to 90 Tests, have averaged almost 47. Batsmen like AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla have come into their own and taken over the mantle from the previous generation of superstars.

There are three representations for the over-35 brigade in the table for top eight averages, which suggests that advancing age does not by itself result in diminishing returns for batsmen.

Batting stats combining age, experience, time period (Min 200 innings)
Decade Experience range Age range Innings Average
  2010-   Over 120   Over 35  366  49.73
  2010-   Between 60 and 90   Between 25 and 30  239  47.25
  2000-2009   Between 90 and 120   Between 30 and 35  648  46.80
  2000-2009   Between 60 and 90   Between 25 and 30  621  45.06
  1990-1999   Between 60 and 90   Over 35  210  42.97
  1980-1989   Between 60 and 90   Between 25 and 30  221  41.40
  2000-2009   Between 60 and 90   Between 30 and 35  1383  40.90
  2000-2009   Between 90 and 120   Over 35  434  40.46

Among the bowlers, a similar list is dominated by groups in the 30-34 age category, implying that it is a phase when bowlers understand their craft and their bodies, and are able to optimise effort to ensure the best results. It has worked for bowlers in three successive decades since the 1980s, with only the experience range increasing with each ensuing decade.

In the 2000s, several top bowlers, including McGrath, Muralitharan, Kumble, Warne and Shaun Pollock, were in that category, which helps explain an average of 26.53; in the 1990s there were other, equally skilful bowlers, including Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh; and in the 1980s, Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Bob Willis and Joel Garner were among those who propped up the 30-34 brigade. It isn't surprising that for most of these greats age was just an irrelevant number.

Bowling stats combining age, experience, time period (Min 200 wickets)
Decade Experience range Age range Wickets Average SR
  2000-2009   Between 90 and 120   Between 30 and 35  632  26.53  56.75
  1990-1999   Between 60 and 90   Between 30 and 35  476  26.54  60.49
  1980-1989   Between 30 and 60   Between 30 and 35  1187  26.59  60.63
  2000-2009   Between 90 and 120   Over 35  400  26.64  60.96
  1990-1999   Between 30 and 60   Between 25 and 30  1409  27.15  61.31
  1980-1989   Between 30 and 60   Between 25 and 30  587  27.36  61.41
  2000-2009   Between 60 and 90   Between 30 and 35  1018  27.92  60.56
  2000-2009   Between 60 and 90   Between 25 and 30  623  29.06  62.18

Stats correct as of June 14, 2015

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY John on | August 11, 2015, 12:01 GMT

    It is good to see how older players are doing so well in Test cricket still, yet it remains strange how age 40 seems to be about the ceiling for most of them still, even in ordinary first-class cricket. What a Test record Jack Hobbs had after the age of 40!

    Others like Patsy Hendren and Tom Graveney also had great records after reaching 40; see http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/372609.html. But no 21st-century players on that list yet!

  • POSTED BY Muntaqa on | August 10, 2015, 20:12 GMT

    This article is a little skewed in my opinion. One major factor that you are discounting is that the sample size for over 35 batsmen is really small. Of course with such a small sample size, the average is going to be much higher. There is one obvious reason for that: batsmen in today's day and age (with so much scrutiny) only last long enough to play in their 30s IF they are good enough. Otherwise, they are forced to retire. Hence, since only good players last till that age, the average is going to be much higher than any other age category. Secondly, we all know post 2000 has been dominated by batsmen, better bats, flatter pitches, smaller grounds...based on this, the average has increased for batsmen. It would be interesting to compare averages pre-2010 with post-2010 and then co-relate that with the difference in over 35 averages for batsmen. I'm willing to out on a limb to say that there won't be too big of a difference, especially if only elite players are compared after 35.

  • POSTED BY asad on | August 10, 2015, 19:28 GMT

    I think the reason for this is that older guys have a better temperament for tests. Another thing is that the guys who play after the age of 35 are greats & have the fitness & will to continue playing (Younis, Sanga, Tendulkar etc..). Some guys who play after the age of 35, become regular players in their sides very late due to the fact that their team used to be too strong for them to get into when they were younger. Rogers is good but not good enough to get into the Oz side of the early 2000s (a time when someone of his age would play most of their cricket). Misbah & Ajmal are good but Misbah's not good enough to be picked before Younis, Yousuf & Inzimam while Ajmal probably wouldn't make it into a bowling line up with Akhtar, Asif, Saqlain & in-form Kaneria. There are many more examples of guys who are good but not good enough to get into their team during their younger years. These players work very hard when they finally get into the team & take many wickets or make lots of runs.

  • POSTED BY SUNIL on | August 10, 2015, 17:47 GMT

    With the fitness facilties,trainers and the amount of tests being played these days,it's quite possible these numbers would still go further up,the only deterrent being T20 techniques,as all the players mentioned above played most of their cricket in pre-T20 era.

  • POSTED BY Muhammad on | August 10, 2015, 17:16 GMT

    I think players of bygone era should have been cherry picked in so far as their averages go just as a comparison. Greats that did stay past 35

  • POSTED BY New on | August 10, 2015, 16:54 GMT

    No mention of Younis Khan in the entire article (except in one table), but surely it was he whose latest exploits inspired the article. I'm at a loss!

  • POSTED BY Ron on | August 10, 2015, 15:50 GMT

    CONTINUED List of 'champion' bowlers by country whose career ended around / early 2010: Australia (McGrath, Warne, Lee, Gillespie, etc.), South Africa (Donald, Pollock, Ntini), England (Harmison, Flintoff, Jones etc.), Pakistan (Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, Akhtar, etc.), India (Kumble, Srinath, Zaheer, Harbhajan), Sri Lanka (Murali, Vaas), New Zealand (Bond, Cairns, Mills, Martin) and similarly for other teams. In the 2010's the only comparable bowlers, not flash in the pan, are: Steyn, Anderson, Broad, and to some extent Morkel, Herath, Ashwin.

    All in all, a much easier proposition for those batsmen who have faced the earlier pack as well.

  • POSTED BY Ron on | August 10, 2015, 15:36 GMT

    I am surprised no one has shined a light on the other side of the coin: bowlers and pitches. In the 90's and early 00's , almost every team had some 'champion' bowlers whose legacy (at least in their country) would be hard to match (see list below). Since 2010, one would struggle to list even 5-6 bowlers globally of consistent skill, longevity and success to challenge those batsman who were able to stand up to the erstwhile 'champion' bowlers. Further the pitches used to be more 'active' than what they tend to be nowadays and while the pace of run scoring has meant more results, the run rates, batting / bowling averages point to a consistently high run-making period (notice how the gap between the other categories of batsmen has shrunk drastically as well. All in all, the experienced batsmen are capitalizing on relatively greener bowling units and easier pitches. CONTINUED

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | August 10, 2015, 9:29 GMT

    I would suggest that the main reason that players 35+ have performed so well is that they know that if they underperform and get dropped, the likelihood that they will be picked again is minimal....a players in his 20's/early 30's can get picked again..

  • POSTED BY FIAZ MEHAR on | August 10, 2015, 5:28 GMT

    When you are going to compare average of batsmen for all last five decades then this decline seen in averages is for all age groups.Because in last decades cricket was slow as compare to now.So to me comparison should be based on number of matches played after age of 35 would be good. More matched played means more fitness more givings in match.

  • POSTED BY Deepak Vishwanathan on | August 10, 2015, 2:35 GMT

    When you give stats of batsmen or bowlers of various age-ranges, are you looking at specialist batsmen/bowlers, or clubbing them all together? I believe that will skew the results that we are seeing.

  • POSTED BY Harkaran on | August 10, 2015, 0:10 GMT

    This just goes to succeed in Test cricket you just don't need potential but also the desire to succeed, and grit to ride the tough times. Players that have shown the desire, and grit haven't been let down by their aging body. Future generations, and current young players would do well if they learn those traits from greats like, Hussey, Dravid, Kallis, Murli, Kumble, Walsh, and etc instead of trying to copy their style of play. Kane Williamson is the only player among the young crop (both batsmen, and bowlers) that has shown the desire to ride the tough periods, and make hay afterwards.

  • POSTED BY o on | August 9, 2015, 15:56 GMT

    With improvements in medical treatment, sports nutrition and quality protective gears it only stands to reason we will see players playing longer.

  • POSTED BY a on | August 6, 2015, 17:04 GMT

    I think the advent of helmets has had an impact on these results - a 22 year-old's appetite for fear is much higher than a 32 year-old's, which is why young men did better before helmets.

  • POSTED BY Sayak on | August 3, 2015, 12:31 GMT

    Chris Rodger's should definitely have been included in the article.