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View: Life does not begin at 40. But athletes are showing us that the work you do is more important than the age in which you do it

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By the time you read this, James Anderson will have played more Test matches than any English cricketer in the history of the game. Sachin Tendulkar finished on 200 — top of the list. But he began when he was 16, and there was no question of him being dropped, or rotated, or rested against his will.

The next closest are Ricky Ponting, a batting prodigy, who racked up 168 appearances, and Steve Waugh, on the same number. Jacques Kallis (166), and two dour specialists, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Rahul Dravid, come in at 164.

Anderson may not get to 200, but he will go past the rest, because he is still at the top of his game at 38 years 11 months 47 days (today) and counting. He is fit, strong, and valued by the country he plays for.

Only days ago, Darren Stevens, the 45-year-old Kent cricketer scored 190 in 149 balls, and then picked up crucial wickets in his team’s match against Glamorgan. He was the oldest man to score a first class hundred in England in 35 years. In the aftermath of the match, his county offered him a contract for the next season, something that typically does not happen till the end of the ongoing season.

It’s easy to dismiss these developments with the usual clichés: life begins at 40; be naughty after 40; age is just a number. But what professional sport is showing us is that the work you do is more important than the age in which you do it.

When Pravin Tambe played for the Rajasthan Royals in 2013, he was already 41. He had not played first class cricket. After his IPL heroics, he played for Mumbai, the toughest domestic team to get into, in the Ranji Trophy. Today, he is still at it, plying his trade in T20 tournaments around the world.

When you look at most sporting disciplines — chess, cue-ball sports aside — 40 is a bridge too far, when it comes to age.

But equally, in India, we are at a crossroads. The level of competition is so high, and the space for coaches to train wards so low, that if you haven’t cut your teeth in competitive sport at a really early age, you will not be let in.

My son is nearly 10, and while he likes to kick a football around with friends, he has not been able to do this in Covidian times. He took to badminton in a proper training camp. But that has been since shut down. With both his parents being cricket journalists, it was not surprising that he couldn’t be bothered with the bat and ball game.

Pointedly, at 10, he is too old already to get into organised cricket in India. He has missed the bus, so to say. But the other end of the Covid-19 spectrum has been the lengthening of careers for those already in the mix. Which reminded me of a far more physically demanding sport than cricket.

NBA basketballer Reggie Miller, of the Indiana Pacers, played 18 seasons for the team, and was 39 when he finished. He then held the record for the most 3-point field goals made. More importantly, he made these shots in clutch time, under extreme pressure. Running up and down a basketball court in the course of an NBA game demands fitness that Tambe, and likely even Anderson, cannot match. And now you have skin fold tests and bleep tests and several similar measures that will allow you to even qualify for a team.

While times have changed, and the demands on fitness and youth must keep up, it’s becoming clear that health and strength are no longer the preserve of youth. As for skills and perspective, let’s not go down that route. That may be a bridge too far.

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