Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting was one of the most prolific batsmen in the 28 to 32 age category © Getty Images
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting was one of the most prolific batsmen in the 28 to 32 age category © Getty Images

There is a common notion that 28 to 32 is the time in which a batsman is in his most prolific form. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to check whether the concept actually holds ground.

When I was young, I have heard several pundits claim that 28 to 32 is when batsmen are at their productive best. I had always wondered how true this was, but had never thought of verifying. Alastair Cook’s prowess before he had turned 28, however, had motivated me to dig deep into this for some time.

Disclaimer:

I have ruled out all innings in the pre-World War II era. There are two reasons for this:

  • There have been several cricketers who have had their careers punctuated or truncated by the wars (Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, and Len Hutton are only a few examples); it will be unfair to include them in the analysis. I agree that the numbers will be evened out (some cricketers may have missed during age 21 – 25, some others during 28 – 32, etc, but then, evening out things in the long run), but then, post-World War II is obviously a large sample in itself.
  • The proportion of older players was a lot more common in the pre-World War II era, which would, if anything, create a bias towards the higher age-groups. It can be safely assumed that the 2010s would not produce a Jack Hobbs, who had played on till he was 48, and produced some of his finest innings at that age. The aim of this analysis is aimed at a more recent era.

Basic year-by-year analysis

A basic year-to-year analysis shows that the numbers generally take an upward slope from age 23, and reaches a summit at age 31. However, it must be noted that after the petering away at the age of 32 to 34, the average once again takes an upward movement from 35, continuing till 37 – with values higher than 31, which has the highest batting.

One may argue that the sample sizes at ages 35 to 37 is smaller compared to the age-groups with relatively lower numbers. However, despite the fact that the counts are lower, 3,133 dismissals (the times a batsman has been dismissed) and 110,296 runs is certainly not a small sample.

Table 1: Performances by age

 Dismissals   Runs   Average 
<=18 457 8970 19.62
19 578 12525 21.66
20 1099 26278 23.91
21 1831 48456 26.46
22 2445 60516 24.75
23 3007 85202 28.33
24 4086 118212 28.93
25 4134 124940 30.22
26 4468 131993 29.54
27 4981 152224 30.56
28 4655 145807 31.32
29 4486 141088 31.45
30 3858 127352 33.01
31 3483 119649 34.35
32 3077 101065 32.84
33 2530 83296 32.92
34 1991 65727 33.01
35 1395 48530 34.78
36 997 33910 34.01
37 741 27856 37.59
38 461 15625 33.89
39 277 10865 39.22
40+ 366 10394 28.39


The difference is more evident if we group the averages by age-groups. It is to be noted that not only does the 33 to 37 group have a higher batting average than the 28 to 32 group, it works for the 38-plus group as well. It can be argued that the logic may be a bit flawed, since only the best of the crop go on to play  after 38 (the others either retire or get axed before that age), and hence it’s a biased sample. Even then, the same argument does not hold for 33 to 37.
Table 2: Performances by age (summary)

 Dismissals   Runs   Average 
<=22 6410 156745 24.45
23 – 27 20676 612571 29.63
28 – 32 19559 634961 32.46
33 – 37 7654 259319 33.88
38 + 1104 36884 33.41

Home vs away

Even if we consider the home versus overseas (away and neutral venues combined), the 28 to 32 theory does not hold good. Batsmen of the age-group 33 to 37 have outscored them both home and away, and even the home-to-away dip is less for the 33 to 37 group. The eye-opening bit, however, is the difference between home and away performances of the 38-plus batsmen.
Table 3: Performances by age

 Home   Not Home   % Dip 
<=22 26.58 22.68 0.1467
23 – 27 31.37 28.09 0.1046
28 – 32 33.93 31.09 0.0837
33 – 37 35.19 32.6 0.0736
38 + 37.43 28.98 0.2258


By country

Of course, the numbers may vary country-to-country, since different countries allow their batsmen to make their debut at different ages. For Bangladesh, the 28 to 32 group is the clear winner, and the group has a marginal advantage for Australia and New Zealand as well, but for the other countries.

The superlative numbers by Australian batsmen in the 38-plus group stand out, as do the dismal ones of the Pakistanis and Sri Lankans. The Indian and South African numbers make interesting reads, though – it is as if the batsmen keep getting better with time!

Aus Ban Eng ICC Ind NZ Pak SA SL WI Zim
<=22 28.02 19.66 22.9 22.93 20.14 22.04 29.16 20.82 24.8 18.44
23 – 27 30.95 21.07 29.39 17.11 31.65 27.02 30.62 32.74 28.73 29.49 23.42
28 – 32 36.3 25.39 31.45 24.6 32.26 27.32 32.74 33.22 35.45 32.63 29.23
33 – 37 34.93 18.43 33.1 7.33 35.34 25.85 36.4 36.53 36.21 35.76 35
38 + 44.23 31.09 37.54 24.47 28.28 39.48 23.72 32.01 28.25
Overall 33.8 21.34 30.76 16.05 31.66 26.34 30.64 33.16 31.18 31.17 24.62

The champions

Disclaimer: In this section, ages are calculated as per calendar years. So, if a batsman was born on June 13, 1972, the entire year 2000 was considered as his 28th year.

How did the champions progress with time, then? Let us consider the eleven men who have scored over 10,000 Test runs. Ricky Ponting definitely had a phenomenal 28 to 32, and so had Rahul Dravid, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Mahela Jayawardene, and Sunil Gavaskar.

The two West Indians, Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, on the other hand, have been more prolific in the 33 to 37 group (Chanderpaul is getting even better after he crossed 38, while Lara actually had a dip in the 28 to 32 group, and has scored more on either sides of it).

Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, and Kumar Sangakkara, though, have been consistent (and have averaged 55-plus in each of their most prolific periods). This is probably the reason that they are the ones with the highest average in the 10,000-run club.

Table 5: Summary by batsmen (over 10,000 runs)

Disclaimer: In this section ages are calculated as per calendar years. So, if a batsman was born on June 13, 1972, the entire year 2000 was considered as his 28th year.

Tendulkar Ponting Dravid Kallis Lara Border Waugh Chanderpaul Jayawardene Sangakkara Gavaskar
<=22 51.73 33 31.81 24.5 29.95 54.44 44.43 83.45
23 – 27 61.45 46 53.58 59.91 56.58 45.48 39.41 34.31 49.42 49.28 41.39
28 – 32 55.81 72.25 60.01 60.68 46.99 62.66 61.17 49.41 61.72 61.01 55.75
33 – 37 56.12 39.71 45.73 60.02 57.01 48.67 49.71 64.63 34.41 62.49 47.39
38 + 35.9 42.86 48.5 41.21 76.62 93.42 42.86
Overall 53.86 51.85 52.31 56.1 52.88 50.56 51.06 51.81 49.56 56.98 51.12


(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)