Opinion: Is age really such a barrier to top-flight cricket?

Fielder throws cricket ball in

Is age really that big a barrier in top-flight cricket? Jonhenry Wilson takes a look:

Cricketers are often said to be 'getting on a bit' once they creep past the age of 30, but as sports science advances we might start to see players playing deep into their 40s at professional level.

The advanced age of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq when they finally hung up their boots could just become the new normal.

Former Zimbabwe skipper Tatenda Taibu's decision to return to the professional game at the age of 35 is evidence that age, in and of itself, doesn't provide an obstacle for players who have the desire to play on.

At club level, it is not uncommon for players to go on playing well into middle-age without their enthusiasm for the game being dimmed. The chief problem facing elite players is managing the wear and tear the endless cycle of play has on their bodies. Most players who play on into their 40s have specialised in one format, while others owe it to a late start to their international careers - like Misbah or the Proteas' Imran Tahir.

It remains unlikely that a player who debuts internationally in his or her early 20s will go on to play until the age of 50, if they play at the highest level throughout that time, simply because of the impact of repeated strain.

Of course, medical advances can do little to prevent retirements like AB de Villiers'. The former Proteas skipper cited the need to spend time with his young family as the motivation behind giving up international cricket at the age of 34, but by the same token we might expect that players like him could return to the game if they feel they once again have the time to play at the highest level.

That really comes back to desire to play as we see in the case of Taibu, who quit the game against the backdrop of clashes with administrators. Taibu found the motivation to play professional cricket again from his son, who hadn't seen his father wield the willow.

The psychological pressure of the game, though, is perhaps the biggest factor in early retirements and a huge driver behind the increase in reports of mental illness among players and support staff. The pressure does not affect all players equally, nor is it applied equally.

If cricket can address a few key areas, we could very well see players enjoying longer and longer careers, but they will need to get all their ducks in a row.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for Hollywoodbets

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