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Eleven players who continued turning out well beyond normal retirement age
August 2, 2007
This week Graeme Hick signed a one-year contract extension with Worcestershire which will keep him playing past his 42nd birthday. In the modern era that makes him a virtual dinosaur, but a few generations ago the older player was a common sight. Here are XI who stretched their careers to the limit.
CK Nayudu 69 years (last match: 1963-64)
One of India's greatest cricketers and one of a handful to have played in six decades. Although his final outing was in a charity match in 1963-64, when he turned out for a Maharashtra Governor's XI against a Maharashtra Chief Minister's XI, he was still playing in the Ranji Trophy when over 60. In 1956-57, aged 62, he scored 52 in his last innings for Uttar Pradesh; earlier in the season he made 84 against Rajasthan, striking Vinoo Mankad for two sixes.
Rev Reginald Moss 57 (1925)
"A number of new players have turned out for Worcestershire this season," noted The Times on the county debut of Moss in a Championship match against Gloucestershire. He had 15 first-class appearances under his belt, mainly for Oxford University, but his previous first-class match had been 32 years earlier in 1893 against the touring Australians and he was now 57. There is no record of why he was picked but it can only be assumed that the side was short; often less well-off counties opted for an available (and free) amateur. The gamble at Worcester failed. Batting at Nos. 9 and 11, Moss scored 2 and 0 - "an easy victim" The Times observed.
Gubby Allen 53 (1953)
Allen's career was long but he did not play nearly as much as many of his contemporaries, mainly because of business commitments. In 1947-48, aged 45, he was asked to lead the MCC tour of the Caribbean. He struggled with injury, pulling a muscle on the outward voyage. But in his 40s he was still one of the quickest bowlers, and it is reported that one England selector told his colleagues in 1946 that they should look at "some young chap called Allen at Middlesex who is pretty sharp" - he couldn't believe it could be a 44-year-old. As late as 1953, Allen scored a first-class hundred against Cambridge University.
Raja Maharaj Singh 75 (1950-51)
Two records that are unlikely to be broken. When Raja Maharaj Singh took to the field on November 25, 1950 as captain of the Bombay Governor's XI against a Commonwealth XI, he was making his first-class debut. In so doing, not only was he the oldest debutant but also the oldest man to play first-class cricket. It was all too much for him. He was bowled by Jim Laker for 4 and took no further part in the match, being listed as "absent - ill" in the second innings. Laker was 44 years younger than the man he dismissed, probably another record.
Ray Illingworth 52 (1983)
When Illingworth retired at the end of 1978 he was already 46, but four seasons later, frustrated with trying to coach a struggling Yorkshire team from the sidelines, he returned as captain, "driven to doing so," Wisden noted, "by feeling the need to get out into the middle to coax and coach his players". He struggled with both bat and ball in 1982, but the following year, aged 51, he took 32 wickets at 29.71 and led Yorkshire to the Sunday League title. He was no passenger in the one-day game, either, with 25 wickets at 14.92.
Jack Hobbs 54 (1934)
Proof that life does begin at 40. Hobbs was 37 when the Great War ended, an age when most players think of retiring. But not he. More than half his 199 hundreds came when he was over 40, and he remains, at 46 in Australia in 1928-29, the oldest man to score a Test century. In 1925, aged 43, he scored 3024 runs and set a record of 16 hundreds in a season. The man himself always argued that he was at his best before he was 40, and when his weight of runs was offered as a counter, he shook his head and replied that "they were nearly all made off the back foot".
Bert Ironmonger 53 (1935-36)
In Australia, cricketers tend to retire earlier than elsewhere, which makes the career of Ironmonger all the more surprising. He did not make his first-class debut until he was 33, and 14 years later, in 1928-29 at 45 years 237 days, he became the fourth oldest cricketer to make a Test debut. His final game was in an unofficial Test against India in Bombay when he took 5 for 70. Many players struggle in the field when they get older, but not Ironmonger. He was a dreadful fielder throughout and a genuine No. 11.
Wilfred Rhodes 52 (1930)
Rhodes played his first Test under WG Grace's captaincy a year after his first-class debut; his final Test was 31 years later when he played in a timeless Test in the West Indies aged 52 years 165 days - England had another veteran in 50-year-old opener George Gunn. Rhodes' last season was 1930, and he took 73 wickets at 19. His career aggregate of 4204 wickets will never be beaten, and on top of that he scored 39,969 runs, batting in every position from No. 1 to 11 for England.
WG Grace 60 (1908)
Few people have had such an impact on the game - or the world - and Grace lived for the game, so much so that at 52 he even set up his own first-class side - London County - when he fell out with Gloucestershire. In May 1895, aged 47, he became the first man to score 1000 runs before the end of May, and he was still good enough to captain England four years later. A big man, he went on too long and by the time he played his last game, captaining Gentlemen of England at a chilly Oval in April 1908, he was a shadow of the colossus he once was. Even then he could not let go, and his last innings of any kind came in July 1914, the year before his death, when he scored an unbeaten 69.
Brian Close 55 (1986)
Close had cricket in his blood and was still playing for Yorkshire's 2nd XI when in his 70s. His last Test appearance came in 1976 when, aged 45, he was peppered with bouncers by West Indies but refused to bow. A decade later he made his final first-class appearance for his own XI against the touring New Zealanders, batting at No. 6 and making 22. He finished six runs short of 35,000 career runs, walking when a leg-side ball brushed his glove. When asked why he gave himself out he said: "It's an honourable game and that's the way I was brought up."
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