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September 2, 2003
Darren Gough, Graham Thorpe, Vinod Kambli, Ajay Jadeja: four international comebacks at various stages of progress - from fact to probable to unlikely to 'forget it, mate'. Cricket hasn't quite had the rich will-they-won't-they history of Alex Higgins, George Best and Elvis Presley, but it has still had plenty of men who couldn't quite let go. Rob Smyth picked a comeback XI for the August issue of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine, one comprising plenty of Englishmen - 12 of the 18 to miss more than 60 consecutive Tests between appearances are Poms - and unsurprisingly, given the mechanics of their craft, a large number of spin bowlers.
Brian Close (England, 1976)
So much for respecting your elders. With England about to front up to West Indies' all-new four-pronged pace attack, there was only one man to call - the masochistic Yorkshireman, Close, who was still up for a bit of rough and tumble at 45. Nine years after his last Test appearance, and a staggering 27 after his first, Close took one hell of a beating as Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Co got stuck in. It would've been sickening if Close didn't seem to be relishing it so much: he took to chesting short balls down like a centre-back. One gruesome evening at Old Trafford in particular, the Windies quicks painted Close's body all the colours of the rainbow. And black.
Wayne Larkins (England, 1989-90)
No more than a decent, if occasionally devastating, county batsman to most, Larkins had not played for England for over eight years and 85 Tests when Graham Gooch hand-picked him on his first tour as captain, to play against West Indies in their prime. In a rich, pre-Atherton era of duff England openers, it was still a major surprise: Ned Flanders seemed to have as good a chance as Larkins. Gooch said it was because Larkins had always been impressive against his county, Essex; closer inspection showed that Larkins had hardly scored a run against them. No matter, it worked: Larkins hit the winning runs in England's historic victory in the first Test - their first against the West Indies in 16 years
Colin Cowdrey (England, 1974-75)
At the age of 42, and after 109 Tests of outstanding service, Cowdrey had earned the right to put his feet up. But when English fingers starting snapping and crackling like Rice Krispies in Australia, Cowdrey was flown down in an emergency. Four days later he was facing Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their most rampant on the Perth trampoline. Cowdrey couldn't turn a tide that was already swimming violently against England - they were battered 4-1 - but as always he got in line and hung around, courageous to the last.
Younis Ahmed (Pakistan, 1986-87)
Nobody has missed more consecutive Tests between appearances: 104, over a whopping 17 years spent serving a ban for touring South Africa. At 39, Younis came back into the hottest kitchen of all - Pakistan against India, in India. He lasted only two Tests. During the second, at Ahmedabad, he complained of back trouble, but instead of resting made his way to a discotheque. Imran Khan, the captain, made sure that it was his last game.
Cyril Washbrook (England, 1956)
It was just another day at the office. But then Cyril Washbrook's fellow England selectors asked him to leave the room. When Washbrook, aged 41 and out of Test cricket for over five years, returned, they asked him to return to the side for the third Test against Australia at Headingley following England's defeat at Lord's. He did, and coming to the crease at 17 for 3, struck a splendid 98, with England going on to an innings-victory.
Bob Simpson (Australia, 1977-78)
At the age of 41, 10 years after his last Test appearance and nine years after he had retired from first-class cricket, Simpson was invited to captain, coach and cajole a young, Packer-gutted Australian side against India and West Indies. He thwacked 176 in his second Test back, and played spin as imperiously as ever, though his team went down in the Caribbean. Being a father figure to a group of young Aussies was good practice for Simpson: 10 years later he coached them to World Cup glory on the subcontinent.
Carl Hooper (West Indies, 2000-2001)
Unlikely on any number of counts. First, that he'd quit international cricket two years earlier on the eve of the World Cup, when he was roundly castigated for leaving his country in the lurch. Second, that this most laconic, laissez-faire of men, once seemingly the antithesis of a team player, should return as captain. Yet for a time it worked: it was under Hooper that West Indies first saw light at the end of the tunnel. And it was telling that such an eternal underachiever should average 46 as captain as against 34 when not. Fate had another card left to play, however: the 2003 World Cup campaign, in which Hooper did very little wrong apart from lose the odd toss and fail to control the weather, turned out to be his last.
Simon O'Donnell (Australia, 1988-89)
Most comebacks are dependent on selectorial whim. For O'Donnell, it was more serious than that. As a hard-hitting batsman and hard-to-hit death bowler he was a key member of Australia's 1987 World Cup-winning squad. But after the tournament O'Donnell, in his mid-20s and in peak physical condition - he had earlier been offered professional terms to play Australian Rules football - was diagnosed with a cancerous lump on his ribs. Yet within a year he was back under the Baggy Green, and soon carting 74 off 29 balls in an Austral-Asia Cup semi-final. The cliché of the brave innings never seemed quite the same again.
Fred Titmus (England, 1974-75)
Many cricketers have got down on one knee to slog-sweep; quite a few have played on one leg. But one toe? Titmus did. Aged 42, and seven years after he lost four toes in a sickening boating accident in the Caribbean - his left foot got stuck in a propeller - Titmus was recalled for his third Ashes tour. And though his offspin wasn't especially successful, he stood up to Lillee and Thomson and crashed England's highest score, 61, on the same Perth flyer that greeted Cowdrey, in his first Test back.
Srinivas Venkataraghavan (India, 1982-83)
Dumped after the series against Australia in 1979-80, having gone nearly a decade without a Test five-for, it was a major surprise when Venkat returned, at 37, for a trip to the West Indies, partnering bowlers (Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Maninder Singh) who hadn't even been born when he made his Test debut. Venkat's last five-for had been in the Caribbean, in 1970-71; this time around he offered control, as always, but struggled for penetration. The following winter he drifted off towards a successful umpiring career.
Aasif Karim (Kenya, 2002-03)
Karim retired after captaining Kenya in their disappointing 1999 World Cup campaign, and as his insurance business took off he hardly touched a bat or ball for four years. But he was whistled up, Roger Milla-style, for the 2003 World Cup to give Kenya a bit of experience, and despite a portly, balding figure that was a picture of innocuousness, gave the otherwise omnipotent Australians the heebie-jeebies with a surreal spell of 3 for 7 off 8.2 overs in the Super Six match at Durban. They were the last wickets of his career; as Verbal Kint said of Keyser Soze, "Like that, he's gone". But Karim had had his 50 balls of fame, and when the romance of the World Cup is on the agenda, he will not be forgotten.
Bob Taylor (England, 1986)
Having retired from first-class cricket two years earlier Taylor was at Lord's for the first Test against New Zealand, as host for the sponsors Cornhill. On the second day, however, he found himself keeping wicket at the age of 45 as a substitute for the injured Bruce French.
Ian Bishop (West Indies, 1992-93 & 1995)
It got him in the end - ending a career of ridiculous promise at 30 - but Bishop overcame serious back trouble to come back twice, each time with a serious bang, first in the crunch series Down Under in 1992-93 and then in England in 1995.
As West Indies play their 500th Test, here's an interactive journey through their Test history