At what age does a cricketer peak? This is a question that has been explored over the years, with many passionate and erudite fans of the game with a statistical bent crunching algorithms to try and determine when cricketers achieve peak performance. As a result of such in-depth statistical analysis across international cricket history and various domestic competitions such as Australia’s Sheffield Shield and England’s County Championship, the general reckoning is that the ages of 32 to 33, for batsmen and bowlers, are the so-called ‘vintage years’.
Indeed, the game is full of many cricketers at domestic and international level who have proven the adage ‘age is just a number’ to be a rather loose term. Cricket pundits, scribes and fans have countless times been wrong to write off players as they moved into their early-30s.
What we broadly believe to be the stage where batsmen, in particular, start to wane is on account of eyesight, reflexes and fitness dipping. Which is why when we see cricketers in their 40s still playing competitive state-level cricket and succeeding season after season, it is so pleasing to comprehend.
The oldest of such professional crickets is Darren Stevens, the Kent allrounder in his 25th season of first-class cricket and 17th with the country. Just this past week, Stevens, at the age of 45, scored 190 off 149 balls out of a Kent total of 307 and then removed Glamorgan’s big-ticket overseas signing Marnus Labuschagne before stumps at Canterbury. Steven’s sublime century – his 36th in first-class cricket – contained 15 fours and 15 sixes and he dominated a ninth-wicket stand of 166 with West Indian Miguel Cummins, who made a solitary run.
— Kent Cricket (@KentCricket) May 21, 2021
In April, when the English county season began, Stevens became the oldest Championship centurion since 1986 when he made 116* against Northamptonshire. Clearly, this is not just a one-off astonishing innings from the veteran.
Also in April, Stevens was named one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of The Year to become the oldest man to receive the accolade since 1933. This followed a superb run in the Bob Willis Trophy for Kent, during which he claimed 29 wickets at 15.00 apiece and scored an astonishing career-best 237 from 225 balls in a 433-run win over Yorkshire.
The season before, with Kent in Division Two of the County Championship, the canny allrounder claimed 52 wickets at 17.57. Since the start of the 2017 season, Stevens has claimed 180 wickets at under 18 per wicket with 16 five-wicket hauls.
How’s that for peak performance?
Since he turned 32, the age widely believed to be a professional cricketer’s peak, Stevens has scored over 8200 runs, with 18 centuries, and taken 499 wickets in first-class cricket. That’s just first-class cricket. Add in over 2000 runs and 103 wickets in List A cricket since the age of 32, as well as over 2500 runs and 87 wickets in T20s (played across leagues in England, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Bangladesh) and you have an outstanding allrounder performing consistently through his 30s and 40s.
Once upon a time, 35 meant the impending age for an international cricketer’s retirement. Stevens never represented England, but the amount of cricket he has played – and this includes stints playing club cricket in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia aside from T20 leagues – is no less than what an international cricketer of his stature in the English system could have played in across a five-year career.
This is down to fitness and stamina and desire. There have been many professional cricketers who played into their 40s, and some into their 50s, which include those who played Tests too. Stevens is showing no signs of slowing down, and in his own unique way is upending the notion of a cricketer’s peak years.