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Age shall not wither

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

In the week that Theresa May became the oldest person to enter 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister since James Callaghan in 1976, the remarkable Misbah-ul-Haq became the oldest person to play in a Test match in England since Brian Close, also, oddly enough, in 1976.

Close, who was forty six when he was asked to pad up against Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel, had, twenty seven years earlier, become England’s youngest ever Test player. Misbah’s achievement, at forty two , was even more extraordinary. The first Test against England at Lord’s was the first he had ever played in that country. Indeed of his young and exciting team , only four – including the great Younis Khan and the opinion – dividing Mohammed Ameer – had toured England before.

It was after their last tour of England in 2010 , and the spot-fixing scandal that besmirched their last Test appearance at Lord’s, that Misbah was brought in, as it were to clean out the Augean stables. He has been outstanding in every respect. It is naturally tempting to compare him with Imran Khan, the only other Pakistan captain capable of bringing disparate and willful talents together to form a conglomerate of something like greatness.. But the real comparison is with one of history’s outstanding captains, Frank Worrell, who led the West Indies to greatness in the early 1960s. Both men had something special, something that fulfilled a need felt by a particular team, full of hugely talented individuals at a particular time. Both were essentially father figures – Imran never really managed that – and had an unchallengeable authority that did not need to be demonstrably seen to be followed.

Misbah’s century on his first appearance in a Test in England was a lustrous adornment to a special Lord’s day. Pakistan were not exactly in difficulty when he arrived but they should have been doing better. As so often , he showed the way. He is always an immensely sensible batsman but he is so much more than that. The way England’s lesser bowlers – on the day at least – Steven Finn and Moeen Ali – were dismissed from the presence was as clinical as it was elegant. There was one unusual thing about the innings; it contained no sixes. Now that Brendon McCullum has retired Misbah is the leading six hitter among current players.

If the Lord’s Test is remembered for nothing else – which is not likely – it will be remembered for Misbah’s celebratory press- ups on reaching his century. It has always been more or less assumed that he is the fittest man in the side – although his fielding is beginning to show signs of what property lawyers call fair wear and tear. Be that as it may, his achievement was remarkable for a forty two year old.

Andrew Miller, speaking on cricinfo, said it was a throwback to the days of Jack Hobbs. Hobbs famously scored a hundred first- class centuries after his fortieth birthday. He was exceptional but not unusual. When he toured Australia for the fifth and last time in 1928-29 under Percy Chapman ( aged 28) England won four – one. Hobbs turned forty six on the tour, Phil Mead forty one, Patsy Hendren and Ernest Tyldesley both forty.

Even in relatively recent times forty-plus year olds have featured in England Test sides. Alec Stewart carried on till he was forty, ¬†just. Eddie Hemmings was forty one when Kapil Dev hit him for four successive sixes to save the follow on at Lord’s in 1990. This was the game in which Graham Gooch made a triple century and another hundred; he too went on till he was well over forty.

But for a player not from England to go on for so long is highly unusual. The historical reason for this is the professional structure of the English game. English players , operating in the county system , had careers that could last for decades. It was different in, say, Australia, where in Richie Benaud’s time even the best could not go on indefinitely. Great players like Alan Davidson and Neil Harvey left the game relatively early: Harvey, the last survivor of Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles, made four Ashes tours of England but when he retired he was only 33. Bradman himself made four tours of England. He turned forty at the end of that 1948 tour.

It was the same elsewhere. Even Worrell was only thirty eight when he made his third and final tour of England in 1963. Clive Lloyd, a comparable figure in some ways, turned forty at the end of the triumphant tour of England in 1984. Of course overseas players who played in county cricket, like Lloyd, Vivian Richards , Gordon Greenidge, Zaheer Abbas and Courtney Walsh, tended to have longer careers. But none of them , nor Sachin Tendulkar or Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the old war horses of the modern era, played a Test in England after his fortieth birthday.

Bert Sutcliffe, the top class New Zealand left hander , toured England in 1965 at the age of forty one. It was not a success . He never really recovered from being hit on the head by a ball from Fred Trueman, himself hardly a stripling at thirty four.

Commendable though Misbah’s achievements are, it is difficult to see him as a trend setter in respect of the age of Test cricketers. It’s a different world. Misbah was a special man for a particular occasion, which he rose to in a way which no one could really have anticipated. We must take him for what he is – a magnificent aberration, and a rare and joyous combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Bill Ricquier, 16/7/2016

This article was featured in ESPN Cricinfo:

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