Cricket’s Old Warhorses
When Sri Lankan veteran Sanath Jayasuriya made a comeback to the national side at the ripe old age (for cricket, definitely not for politics) of 41, most questioned his inclusion; some were even surprised to find his motivation for cricket at his age.
It will probably make him the oldest player among the Test playing nations currently playing for their country. However, it was not an uncommon sight in cricket a few generations back. Playing cricket in their 50s was familiar sight if you were a cricket spectator a couple of decades ago. Unbelievable as it might sound today, but the fact is that some even stretched their playing career to their 70s!
Here is a list of some players who played competitive cricket when most of their peers were not capable of leading normal lives, let alone playing a game:
WG Grace (60)
The contribution by WG Grace to cricket is colossal. Grace was among the rarest breed of cricketers who influenced the history of their time. He was the first real hero cricket had seen.
When he was 47, Grace was the first man on earth to hit 1000 runs in cricket. He captained England for the next four years. He continued to play first class cricket even after retiring from Tests. And at the age of 60 in 1908 he captained Gentlemen of England. But he didn’t stop there. His last innings in any form of cricket came in 1914, the year before he died, when he scored an unconquered 69.
This is an achievement in itself when we learn that he made his first class debut at the tender age of 15.
CK Nayudu (69)
India’s first Test captain was not only one of the greats among his current generation, but also played cricket throughout his enter life. To the surprise of many cricketers of his own generation, he came out of retirement to play in India’s premier domestic tournament Ranji Trophy at the age 62 for Uttar Pradesh. And he did not disappoint his fans!
His last Ranji innings brought him 52 runs. But the highlight of his last season was a blazing 82 against Rajasthan and hitting redoubtable Vinoo Mankad for two sixes at a time when the bowler was at his prime.
His last appearance was at the age of 69 when he turned up in an exhibition match for a Maharashtra Governor`s XI against Maharashtra Chief Minister`s XI.
Raja Maharaj Singh (75)
When Raja Maharaj Singh took to the field as captain of Bombay Governor`s XI against Commonwealth XI in 1950, he was making his first class debut at the age of 75. It made him the oldest debutant in the first class cricket, a record which is unlikely to be broken.
In that match he was bowled by England great Jim Laker for 4 in the first innings. Laker was 44 years younger than him. It was probably another ‘record’ for Raja. He, however, didn’t bat in the second innings as he was listed as "absent -ill". But the two records he made were unlikely to be overshadowed.
Brian Close (55)
A fighting character on a cricket field, Close was still playing for Yorkshire`s 2nd XI in his 70s. His last Test appearance came at the age of 45. The sight of his avoiding Michael Holding bouncers at that age is one of the cricketing folklore. He played his first class match at the age of 55, a decade after his Test retirement, against the touring New Zealand side in which he made 22. His longevity ensured that he amassed almost 35,000 career runs.
Jack Hobbs (54)
Australian great Jack Hobbs played cricket till 54. More than half his 199 hundreds came when he was over 40. It was not doubt that the Great War hampered his career. When war ended he was 37. But he was going great guns. He scored his last Test century at the age of 46.
Ray Illingworth (52)
Ray Illingworth bade goodbye to Test cricket in 1978 at the age of 46. After retirement he was coaching a struggling Yorkshire side. When he failed to inspire from the sidelines, he decided to take the plunge onto the cricket field again. And in 1982 at the age of 50, he returned to first class cricket. Though he did not do well in that season, the next season, at 51, he took 32 wickets at 29.71 and led Yorkshire to the Sunday League title. Next year he finally retired from all forms of cricket at the age of 52.