Hasta la vista... maybe?

Stuart MacGill's comeback to big cricket has started well, but some people weren't so lucky

Steven Lynch

January 2, 2012

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Sanath Jayasuriya fell for just 2 in his 445th and final ODI appearance, England v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, The Oval, June 28 2011
Sanath Jayasuriya scored 2 off his final ODI, two days before his 42nd birthday © Getty Images
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George Headley
"Atlas" Headley was undoubtedly West Indies' first great Test batsman, as an overall average of 60.83 in an often weak team demonstrates. But by the start of 1954 he was pushing 45, hadn't played a Test for six years, and wouldn't have been chosen against the England tourists but for a fund that brought him back to Jamaica from his home in England. He may have wished he'd stayed in the UK: he struggled an hour for 16 in the first innings, and was bowled by Tony Lock's faster ball - a suspect delivery, sent down at great pace with a bent arm (Lock was called for throwing elsewhere during the tour). Headley sat out the rest of the series, and never played again.

Ranji
Prince Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji - Ranji for short - was one of the great batting stars of cricket's Golden Age, around the turn of the 20th century. Ranji was the first person to score 3000 first-class runs in an English season, in 1899, many of them scored with the silky leg-glance he practically invented. And he did it again the following year to show it was no fluke. But he became more and more preoccupied with events at home in India, and had only two full seasons with Sussex after 1903. In 1920, he tried one last comeback - and it was a rather sad, ill-advised affair. Ranji was 47 and portly by then, and crucially he had tragically lost an eye in a shooting accident. In three matches he managed only 39 runs, and quietly returned to India.

Sanath Jayasuriya
It's said that the other Sri Lankan players were less than impressed by the return after more than a year of Jayasuriya, at the age of 41, to the national limited-overs team in England in 2011, apparently on the instruction of the country's sports minister. Jayasuriya - now an MP himself - tried to defuse the criticism by announcing he would retire for good after the first ODI, and it was a quiet farewell: he signed off a long and distinguished international career by being out for 2.

Fred Trueman
In his pomp "Fiery Fred" was the most feared fast bowler in the world - and the fastest, at least by his own assessment (and, it must be said, by that of several opening batsmen too). The first man to take 300 Test wickets, Trueman retired from first-class cricket in 1968 - signing off with a Championship winners' medal and a treasured victory, as captain, over the Australian tourists - but made a comeback for Derbyshire in the Sunday League in 1972. At 41, off a 15-yard run-up, Fred wasn't quite as terrifying a prospect, and managed only seven wickets in six matches before the experiment was quietly abandoned.


New Zealand batsman Jeff Wilson celebrates hitting the winning runs. 4th ODI: New Zealand v Australia at Trust Bank Park, Hamilton, 27 March 1993.
Jeff Wilson*: in happier times, after hitting the winning runs against Australia in an ODI in 1993 © Photosport
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Jimmy Cook
Not quite a comeback, but a case of too little too late: had South Africa not been excluded from international cricket, prolific opener Cook, who made more than 2200 runs in each of his three seasons with Somerset, might have played upwards of 100 Test matches. As it was, South Africa's return came too late for him: at 39, he played in their second Test back (at home against India in November 1992), but was out to its very first ball. He won only two more caps.

Gubby Allen
England's captain in the exciting 1936-37 Ashes series - when Australia, inspired by Don Bradman, uniquely fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 - Allen was a long-time Lord's favourite. He was a fast bowler with a classical action, but even that is not immune to ageing. In 1947-48, he was named England's captain for the tour of West Indies. He bravely expected to take the new ball, even though he was 45, but pulled a muscle while skipping in training on the boat out. He still played in three of the four Tests, but managed only five wickets. He remains the oldest fast bowler to take the new ball in a Test match.

Dera Ismail Khan
You'd have thought the team of Dera Ismail Khan, a town about 200 miles from Lahore, might have had enough after their initial first-class match, in December 1964, when a strong Pakistan Railways side made 910 for 6 then bowled them out for 32 and 27, to win by the little matter of an innings and 851 runs. They didn't turn up for their next two fixtures, and that seemed to be that, but they bravely made a comeback in 1983-84, and took part in the Patron's Trophy for three seasons. They lost their first six matches by an innings, so there was probably dancing in the streets of Dera Ismail Khan in October 1984 when they then lost to Hazara by only 17 runs. Two more innings defeats followed, then they fought out a draw with Hazara and quit first-class cricket while they were (relatively) ahead.

Jeff Wilson
Wilson looked the part when he played four ODIs as a bustling bowler and hard-hitting batsman for New Zealand against Australia early in 1993. But then rugby intervened, and "Goldie" Wilson became a legendary All Black (and, for a time, their leading try-scorer). When he'd had enough of that he returned to cricket - but the break had been too long and he struggled, even though he was recalled to New Zealand's one-day team in 2005, after a record gap of nearly 12 years. But his bowling had lost its sting - 0 for 57 and 1 for 68 against Australia - and he didn't distinguish himself with the bat.

Wally Hammond
One of England's all-time greats - he made 7249 runs in 85 Tests at an average of 58, and grabbed handy wickets and superb slip catches too - Hammond was at his best in the inter-war years, outshone only by the even more amazing feats of Don Bradman. But fibrositis and other ills slowed Hammond down after the war, and a glittering career seemed to have ended when he retired after the 1946-47 Ashes tour, when he came second to Bradman again. But he was tempted out of retirement to play for Gloucestershire in 1951, after a committeeman reckoned Wally's return would guarantee a bumper gate. But Hammond shouldn't have been tempted - he looked completely at sea, making just 7, and promptly disappeared for good. For more on this one, click here.


Martin Crowe mans the slip cordon, Papatoetoe v Cornwall, Auckland, November 5, 2011
Martin Crowe: the 49-year-old slip fielder © Getty Images
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Martin Crowe
Headline writers were excited by Crowe's bullish announcement in 2011 that he would be attempting a first-class comeback at the age of 49. Probably New Zealand's greatest batsman - and certainly their most stylish, with the elegance and shots of Greg Chappell - Crowe made 5444 runs in 77 Tests before a bad knee injury forced him to retire in 1994. With a nation - and hundreds of cricketers of a certain age - willing him on, Crowe tried the comeback trail. But sadly, it ended in tears: pushing off for a single in an early club game, he injured his hamstring, and had to admit that the body couldn't stand up to it anymore.

Andy Cummins
Cummins, from Barbados, was a regular in the West Indies one-day side in the early 1990s, winning 63 caps as a containing fast-medium bowler who was hard to get away. He also played five Tests, with little success. He was discarded after the 1995-96 Australia tour, and that seemed to be that. Later he emigrated to Canada and, to general surprise, turned up in their national side in 2007, aged 40, with rather less hair but rather more of a waistline. He played in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, and might have wished he hadn't when he got pasted by England and New Zealand. He did keep Kenya quiet, though.

*10.18 GMT, Jan 2: The photo caption identified the player as Jimmy Cook. This has been corrected to Jeff Wilson.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011.

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Posted by   on (January 5, 2012, 15:29 GMT)

what are the odds of that?? I am sitting in dera ismail Khan right now and my eyes popped out when I read the name of the city.

Posted by AlanHarrison on (January 5, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

@ RoJayao: I feel sure there was also talk of Lillee playing for an English county in 1988, possibly Northamptonshire. He might even have played for them a couple of times, although I don't think he scared to many people in the process

Posted by RoJayao on (January 4, 2012, 23:05 GMT)

Dennis Lillee made a comeback in 1988 after retiring four years earlier. He played a few ODI's for Tasmania and I think even a Shield game before the body realised it was forty years old and gave out!

Posted by tomphillips on (January 4, 2012, 22:16 GMT)

@Roxsport - Botham took 16 wkts in 1992 wc, = 2nd behind Wasim Akram, he was MOM vs India and Aus

Posted by AlanHarrison on (January 4, 2012, 11:56 GMT)

@ROXSPORT: while I agree that Botham's performance in the world cup of 92 was not very impressive, I don't think it's true he had "absolutely no impact the ball": from memory he did take a few wickets in the match against Australia in that tournament, and I think a couple against India. Also I don't think it belongs in this list because a, it wasn't really a case of a sudden comeback in that tournament: he'd played tests and one-day internationals for England the previous summer and earlier that winter, and b, Botham's performance was not a case of a player who'd always been good suddenly reappearing and being a shadow of their former selves: he'd actually been in decline for some years ahead of the tournament (e.g., his performances against Australia in 1989)

Posted by ROXSPORT on (January 3, 2012, 20:56 GMT)

Ian Botham's comeback in the 1992 World Cup deserves a mention. He was well & truly past his prime though he did play one or two useful innings with the bat. Had absolutely no impact with the ball though.

Posted by NALINWIJ on (January 3, 2012, 14:55 GMT)

On the other hand Bob Simpson's comeback helped a Packer depleted Australian side beat India 3-2 with useful batting contribution by Simpson. Hence it does not belong in the list of flops.

Posted by AlanHarrison on (January 3, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

@ DardaG: Well I agree there is a significant overlap in the two lists, but I would say that this list unlike the other is specifically concerned with cases of unsuccessful comebacks: the list from three years ago actually includes some people (e.g., Bob Taylor and Shaun Udal) who actually did surprisingly well on their comebacks.

Posted by AlanHarrison on (January 3, 2012, 12:14 GMT)

@Raf Kaplan: I think the point of this list actually is that it is about unsuccessful comebacks. Bob Simpson's leadership of Australia in 1977-8 after he made a comeback aged 40 or so doesn't really fall into this category, on the grounds that he did fairly well. He led Australia to victory in a home series against India, and while they then lost in the West Indies, his Packer-gutted side certainly wasn't disgraced, and from memory he personally scored a fair few runs, including a century I believe in a big successful run chase in the West Indies. Simpson was certainly more successful than some of the comebacks mentioned above, and than his successor as captain of Australia.

Posted by JG2704 on (January 3, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

Jimmy Cook was amazing for Somerset. It's a shame he was in the wrong era as far as playing for SA

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Steven LynchClose
Steven Lynch Steven Lynch won the Wisden Cricket Monthly Christmas Quiz three years running before the then-editor said "I can't let you win it again, but would you like a job?" That lasted for 15 years, before he moved across to the Wisden website when that was set up in 2000. Following the merger of the two sites early in 2003 he was appointed as the global editor of Wisden Cricinfo. In June 2005 he became the deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. He continues to contribute the popular weekly "Ask Steven" question-and-answer column on ESPNcricinfo, and edits the Wisden Guide to International Cricket.

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