When Jimmy Anderson stepped on to the pitch for England against South Africa on Wednesday at Lord’s, he will be playing his first test match as a 40 year old. The third most successful bowler in the history of test cricket, he insists that he does not feel older or shows signs of slowing down.
At the same time, he accepts that he is nearing the end of his career and that he may be among the last of a dying breed. Few cricketers can expect to play test cricket into their forties, especially with the continuing rise of T20 cricket.
It used to be not uncommon
In earlier times it was not uncommon for players to continue their international careers, in rare cases even into their fifties. There was only one format of the game then, so there was not the same demand on time and fitness as with one day cricket.
There was also a lot less cricket played. Players would appear in domestic three or four day competitions, and, if they were good enough to be picked for their national sides, might play one or two test series a year. If they were then selected to go on tour, they could expect a leisurely boat cruise that might last several weeks to reach their destination, rather than be whisked there in a matter of hours thanks to long distance air travel.
And last but not least there was not the same emphasis on agility and fitness in the field. The modern player is expected to be an athlete, and apart from training on the pitch, can expect to spend many hours in the gym every week. Their equivalents from yesteryear often had a more dilatory lifestyle, and would often smoke, drink and eat excessively.
Oldest players all played in the pre-war era
For those reasons, the list of oldest test players is dominated by those who appeared for their countries before the Second – and in some cases the First -World War. The most recent example of a veteran to have played test match cricket is Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq, who was just short of his 43rd birthday when he played against the West Indies in May 2017.
That, though, does not even earn him a place among the top 25 oldest players of all time. Here, in ascending order, is the top five.
Southerton has the double distinction of being the oldest man to make his test debut, and the first test cricketer to die. The Australian played in the first two tests ever contested against England in Melbourne in 1877, and, by the time the second match was staged, he was already 49 years and 119 days old, having played first class cricket for decades already.
Gunn played his first test for England against Australia in 1908, but, like many players of his generation, his career was interrupted by war. Surprisingly, only one of his test caps was in England, the rest of them overseas, the last of them occurring in 1930 when he toured the West Indies among a group of players chosen as a reward for their long service. He was two months shy of his 51st birthday when he made his final test appearance.
William Gilbert (W.G.) Grace is one of the most legendary figures to have ever played the game, scoring more than 54,000 runs across 44 seasons. He captained England, but his final test tally of 22 caps would surely have been many times that in the modern era.
His last test match was in 1899 when he was already 50 years and 320 days old against Australia at Trent Bridge. However, he continued playing domestic cricket for five years after that.
The Australian Ironmonger was just seven days older than Grace when he made his last appearance for his country in 1933 against England at Sydney in February 1933. It was an inauspicious end to his international career because the English introduced the bodyline style of fast bowling which was deliberately intended to intimidate batters.
The record of Rhodes is likely to stand for all time. The Englishman was 52 years and 183 days old when he last played for his country against the West Indies at Kingston in April 1930, in the same side as Gunn.
That was his 58th and last test for his country. During his test career he scored more than 2,300 runs and took 127 wickets with his slow left-arm orthodox spin.
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