Evergreen Anderson illustrates irrelevance of age in Test cricket

John Nicholson
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As Jimmy Anderson took another 5- wicket haul at the age of 37, he declared that his age was irrelevant and that he felt in good shape and fit. And in fact, whereas some sports make such physical demands on the body that once you get into your mid-thirties you are just not able to take the hits in rugby or the 14km running and tackling in football, or rather you are, but are not able to compete successfully with people 15 years younger, in cricket this is far less the case. 

Clearly, you need to have kept your passion for the game in order to be motivated to make the effort and after 20 years of throwing them down, sometimes that might understandably fade a little.

You need stamina to bat, at least you do if you’re planning to stick around for a long knock, but a good fitness regime can give you that. You need good eyesight but 20/20 vision is available to everyone these days. You need explosive energy to be a fast bowler but only in very short bursts. Obviously, you do get rest after every delivery and after each over. The exertions are not continuous. Actually, if you’re a spinner, the exertions are pretty minimal unless you count strolling from long on to turn your arm over off a five step run up every other over exerting.

Like Anderson, you need to keep yourself in good physical condition and have a post-game recovery strategy but given these things are in place, why shouldn’t we see more players extending their Test careers into their 40s on a more regular basis? Their experience and wisdom is invaluable.

Cricket, perhaps more than most sports tends to be mastered via experience. Whereas a young footballer might burst on the scene at 17, by 23 he’s often pretty much set in how he plays. 27 was traditionally said to be a footballer’s peak but that’s probably more like 25 now. However, a 25-year old cricketer is really only just getting started. So many players get better in their 30s. Is Anderson a provably worse or less effective bowler now than 10 years ago? No way. He was ranked No.2 in the ICC Test Bowling Rankings a year ago.

Ageism is the last bigotry that won’t get you caught up in a Twitter storm and outlawed from decent society, the way some other isms will. Making negative judgments on someone based on age, is rife in society. You see it everywhere. ‘Old’ is never used as a positive, always a negative, usually as part of an incentive. It is a put-down.

All too often, we fail to understand that 40-year-olds in 2020, born in 1980 are not like 40-year-olds of yore. You only have to look at photos of cricketers of yore to understand how physically different they are after a lifetime of fitness training, gym work and appropriate diet.

Anderson looks absolutely strapping and could pass for ten years younger, but he’s not unique in this now. I do wonder if sometimes the ambitions of cricketers are inhibited by their age and by the assumption that their powers must be waning. Or perhaps that is how they are viewed as a de facto judgement based on their age. In other words because people always used to retire in their late 30s, that’s still just what you do.

Anderson is clearly challenging that. Devon Smith is also now over 38 and still playing Test cricket. But there have been plenty of older cricketers over the years. Geoff Boycott was 41 when he played his last Test as was Ray Illingworth. Brian Close was 45 when he faced the Windies in 1976, Wilf Rhodes played on until 52 in 1930 and while you can argue those were very different days indeed, he simply must’ve been more than capable to lay a bat on a ball at the highest level on the uncovered, uneven pitches of the day.

While it may be a bit extreme to play your first Test aged 49, as James Southernton did in the 19th century, England would be far less of a side without Anderson and while that remains the case, his age really is irrelevant.

By John Nicholson

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