The Pakistani Fountain of Youth in Numbers: a Chart on Catching Talent Young

by Devanshu Mehta

Recently Jarod Kimber was gushing over the new Pakistan quick Junaid Khan. In doing so, he said that in addition to flair and skill, it is the youth of new Pakistan bowlers that makes them so appealing. Of course, I’m paraphrasing. Jarrod never says anything so dull.

This got me thinking about how early Pakistan cricketers start in International cricket. Anecdotally, it seemed Pakistan had the most young debutants. This led me to StatsGuru. Which led to this chart (click the chart for an awesome large version)– the bars represent % of total debutants who were under 22, and there’s one bar per decade, per team:

Debuts Under Age 22 (as % of Total Debuts)

Debuts Under Age 22 (as % of Total Debuts) by Decade in ODI cricket

(View Enlarged)

I started by just getting the per team numbers for all 40 years of ODI cricket. This was great, and demonstrated the same trend (younger debuts in the sub-continent, older in England/Aus), but I wanted to see how these numbers changed over time. So I pulled the numbers separately for each decade of One Day cricket.

A few points that stand out for me:

  • Pakistan and Sri Lanka have consistently favored youth. The remarkable thing is that their numbers remain high regardless of the fortunes of their team.
  • English players have historically taken time to prove themselves worthy of an international cap, until the last decade. Perhaps this is a reason for their recent success?
  • West Indies has oscillated dramatically between starting older and starting young.
  • Do teams turn to youth when they are struggling? This is obviously the case with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe– I didn’t include their data here– but how about other teams? What I was trying to get at by splitting the data in to four decades.
  • In countries like England, there is actually something going on at the other end of the spectrum. Andrew Strauss was effectively forced out of the side at age 34. A combination of the under-22 and over-34 problem is why the total centuries by the entire current English Test side is less than Tendulkar+Dravid*.
  • Finally, it doesn’t help to compare 1970’s statistics to other decades. It was the first decade of ODI cricket, and most “debuts” were actually established players. It does make sense, however, to compare 1970’s numbers between teams. Even in that early decade, Pakistan is substantially ahead of the rest.
Starting players late means they have shorter shelf-lives. Not only that, it makes for poorer branding. The reason adjectives like exciting get thrown around a lot more for Pakistani bowlers and Indian batsmen is because at 19 they’re blowing top-notch opposition out of the water.

I also pulled overall (40 year) numbers for Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but I don’t consider them interesting. They have such a poor record that they have no choice but to turn to the teenagers. If you’re interested, Bangladesh is 66% under 22 debuts, and Zimbabwe is 51%.

* And talent, of course.

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