December 6, 2008

The optimum age for a cricketer

Analysis performances to determine the optimum age for batsmen and bowlers

Our CSW database has the capacity to analyse data by age, so I decided to use it to investigate what age(s), if any, provided significantly better performances.

My sample was Sheffield Shield data since 1977, when the newest state, Tasmania, entered the competition. This provided reasonably homogenous data, with little of the cultural variation that might be obtained using Test match data. The sample thus analysed over nearly 950 matches, involving 800 players.

The results are in the table below:

Age-wise averages with bat and ball in Sheffield Shield since 1977
Age Batting average Bowling
<20 28.34 34.01
20 26.66 35.78
21 29.08 36.45
22 30.55 36.92
23 30.31 36.10
24 31.23 34.93
25 30.77 33.22
26 31.67 33.56
27 30.99 32.75
28 31.53 32.86
29 32.41 31.45
30 33.96 30.58
31 32.35 32.19
32 34.63 30.42
33 31.64 29.93
34 30.71 31.19
35 32.72 33.32
>35 33.06 34.97

What, if anything, can be deduced from the results? Well, clearly, both batting and bowling averages improve as one gets older, but the extent to which this happens after the age of 30 surprises me. The picture of the young, virile cricketer in his early-20s emerging triumphant over the aging has-been is not sustained by this data, and it would seem that experience outweighs youthful exuberance more times than it doesn't. For both batsmen and bowlers, the ages of 32 - 33 are the vintage years, and perhaps we are too keen to write players off as they move through their early-30s.

I would be most interested to read of the comments by others in relation to this data, and data from other spheres of cricket.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2008, 2:00 GMT

    Well, good analysis! Whilst I would like to retort sanguinely only after a chary construal on the basis of age, location played at, opponent team aganist played, career period lasted, total matches played by representing team and in a calender year and overall average runs scored in a match as well by individual innings by batting / bowling first or second respectively. However rudimentry of this critcial analysis is to dwell accentuate!

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2008, 8:56 GMT

    This analysis holds good for cricketers from Australia alone. In other countries like India and Pakistan, youngsters make debut and for some strange reason do well as compared to their Aussie counterparts. Case in point, the U-19 WCs, and U-19 competitions etc. Just a thought.

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2008, 4:01 GMT

    Good analaysis; but a better way to look at it would be first selecting a group of players who had a career span from, say 20 to 35 years and then compare their performances on the age basis. For example, if would be interesting how Brian Lara performed when he was 22 or 25 compared to when he has been 30+. The same goes for bowlers like Shane Warne, Murali or McGrath.

    An average over a sample of such players would probably be a better indication of what happens.

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2008, 3:28 GMT

    It would be great if this analysis is restricted to just players who have played for their country or also include players who have had a fairly long first class cricket. By this way we can eliminate the mediocre ones and also the ones who didnt play after 22-23 etc....

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2008, 2:37 GMT

    I have seen that it is different for batsmen and bowlers. Specially a genunie fast bowler is better when is between 24-30 years old. Once he starts aging his bowling avg. starts getting bad. When Waqar Younis started he was the best bowler i have ever seen in cricket. His yorkers were so fast that it was impossible for batsmen to block them. But when he became older, same yorkers became full toss since he was unable to bent his back as much as he should have to make it a yorker.

  • testli5504537 on December 6, 2008, 23:24 GMT

    Dr. Manish Agrawal- many Australians make their Test debuts late, but this data is about Sheffield Shield cricket, and in fact most Australian cricketers make their first-class debuts quite young, and play Test cricket with seven or eight years' experience behind them.

    While I agree that the data will be skewed by established older players performing better than inexperienced younger players, I can't help but wonder what some players might have achieved if they'd played longer, such as Graeme Pollock who played his last Test at 26.

  • testli5504537 on December 6, 2008, 23:21 GMT

    One thing that should work better is to ask, How do really good players' performances change with age? This way you can just consider all players with at least (say) 50 Tests and see how their performances vary over those 50 Tests. I did some here for bowlers:

  • testli5504537 on December 6, 2008, 23:16 GMT

    Aging curves are difficult. The selective sampling issues raised by commenters above can have HUGE effects on the results.

    A better method is to compare each player's results in one season with his results in the next season. Do this for all players, take ratios, combine together over the course of a career, and you've got an aging curve.

    The problem is another selective sampling problem - those players who play in the next season probably had a good previous season, and having a good season is partly luck and partly talent. So you're selectively sampling players who were lucky in the first season (and so you'll observe bigger declines than there really are).

    To fix this problem, you need to regress the first season's performances to the overall mean - I don't know of anyone doing this rigorously in cricket yet. And this step is very important - in certain aspects of baseball performance, this can change the apparent peak performance age by TEN YEARS!

  • testli5504537 on December 6, 2008, 22:25 GMT

    Surely this is skewed by better players having longer careers and continuing to their 30's, where as worse ones will have been dropped by then.

  • testli5504537 on December 6, 2008, 22:22 GMT

    I distinctly notice that white and black cricket players often do perform at full quality even after the age of 36. Border, Waugh, Hayden, Warne, McGrath, Lara, Richards, Greenidge, Walsh, etc. all come to mind.

    Indian players usually drop of totally after the age of 34, even if they are batsmen. Gavaskar and Jayasuriya are perhaps the only partial exceptions.

    Hence, the top-tier Australian cricketer usually retires while still in solid form. Note how well S. Waugh, McGrath, and Warne did even in their last series. The Indian cricketer, on the other hand, usually only retires when their form has been bad for long enough to be dropped, and this is usually at a young age.

    Dravid and Tendulkar both dropped off in form after the age of 33 or so. Contrast that to Lara and Hayden's performance after age 33.

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