No country for old men

With the ‘Great Review of Australian Cricket’ just around the corner, I think it is important to address an issue that I’m sure will be at the bottom of the review panel’s ‘to-do’ list – cricketers in their thirties.

Cricket Australia have made it quite clear in recent years that there is no place for cricketers over the age of 35 in Australian cricket, unless they are batting in the Test top six.

Why is it that three of Australia’s top six batsmen are over the age of 35, yet there is not a single batsman over the age of 35 playing Sheffield Shield cricket?

The general consensus is that most cricketers don’t reach their peak until their late twenties or early thirties; these cricketers just better hope that their peak is the Australian team and not their State team because middle-aged rookies are a dying breed in what used to be the world’s premier domestic competition.

I can understand fast bowlers being turned away once they reach their mid-thirties, because by that stage, many of them are a game by game proposition because of wear and tear but batters and spin bowlers in their thirties still have a role to play at domestic level.

I can only really talk about my home state of Queensland with confidence, but I sense that most states are ignoring players, over the age of 30, whose performances in grade cricket warrant selection for their state.

There is a very real possibility that only two of Queensland’s 25 contracted players in season 2011-12 will be over the age of 30 – those two being James Hopes and Chris Swan.

Yet ask any Brisbane first grader, who is the best batsman in the competition? And the answer will be one of two names, Brian May or Aaron Nye, 35 and 33-years-old respectively.

Heck! The second best ’keeper in Queensland is 42-years-old.

May and Nye have been permanents at the top of the Brisbane Grade Competition run-scorers list for the last three years but have been overlooked in a time when Queensland are crying out for top order batsmen.

Youth is obviously the preferred option but if there aren’t any young players with the ability to step up to the next level, selectors should pick someone they know can do the job, instead of plucking names out of a hat (filled with the names of players under 25).

Many of these grade veterans (which these days is anyone whose age begins with a 3); dominate the competition because they are playing against opponents that aren’t first-graders.

The majority of first-graders in the Brisbane competition are under the age of 25, which I’m sure is a statistic that Cricket Australia love, but many of them are second-graders masquerading as first-graders, and they know it, but they’re not to blame, somebody has to fill the spots vacated by a generation of cricketers that retired early because they saw no light at the end of the tunnel.

This generation retired prematurely because Cricket Australia decided to replace the State 2nd XI competition with the Futures League, which only allows each state to select three players over the age of 23 in their side.

The Queensland 2nd XI was once a stepping stone to higher honours for Brisbane’s best grade performers and it gave grade cricketers in their late twenties and early thirties some incentive to toil away every weekend for their club.

2nd XI players were paid to play, which meant players, who worked part-time jobs and spent weekends away from their young families, could justify these life decisions, because there was a chance they were on the cusp of realising their dream of playing First Class cricket.

I am almost 100 percent positive that the Futures League will remain, because Cricket Australia are desperately looking for a few potential 10 to 15-year Test cricketers that can form the foundation of the team during this ‘rebuilding’ phase, but I think Australian cricket would be better off without a 2nd XI or Futures League competition altogether.

Baseball legend, Joe DiMaggio, once said: ‘A ball player needs to be kept hungry to become a big leaguer.’

Fewer bloated contracts to guys that are essentially grade cricketers, and fewer pay checks to under 23 cricketers that haven’t even taken a first grade ‘five-for’ or scored a first grade ton, might bring out the hunger in aspiring First Class players, not just in Queensland, but throughout Australia.

Maybe it’s time for Queensland Cricket to go ‘back to the future’ and reintroduce the Colts side that was full of talented under 23 cricketers that couldn’t make their own club’s first grade team, which gave them the opportunity to prove they were up to playing first grade cricket.

Cricket has never been a young man’s sport, but it is quickly getting that way, which is a sad plight on a sport that, according to several prominent journalists, is struggling to hold its mantle as Australia’s national pastime.


  1. John Butler says

    Good observations Wally.

    CA seems to have become a haven for fashionable theories rather than common sense or consistency.

    Policies re age have been so inconsistently applied, along with so many other trains of thought, that players would be bewildered now.

  2. Sorry the following rat is a little off-topic, but I cannot help myself…
    This interesting article mentions in passing James Hopes. I reckon he has been treated
    disgracefully by the national selectors. This past summer, he has proven he was far from
    a spent force with excellent performances in all 3 forms of the game, culminating in his
    being named Sheffiled Shield player of the year.
    It seems it is ok for some players to be 35 + (e.g. M Hussey) but not others.

  3. To Smokie88,

    I think your rant is exactly on the topic. Both Wally (the writer) and myself play at the same club as James Hopes. He is an amazing cricketer who has been treated terribly by national selectors. When Wally mentioned the inconsistency of Australian selectors in regard to age, Im sure he had Hopes in mind. Hopes has been the most dominant and reliable allrounder in Australia for nearly a decade. At the international level he was often used as a ‘Mr Fix-It’ and never had the chance to show his full potential (like never playing a test match). Congratulations Hopesy on an ironman performance this year.

  4. Maybe James Hopes is too grounded? When he was making his way into the grade ranks he worked with my (now) wife at an after school care facility near Ferny Grove. My wife had little regard for sport, yet found James to be a genuinely nice guy to the kids, parents and all who worked with him. He also got me freebie tickets to a Shield Final too.

    Very pleased to hear he has earned the respect of his peers.

  5. Mulcaster says

    Ponting’s resignation as captain was long over due.
    Can someone please hand the service revolver to the selection panel.

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