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Stuart MacGill's comeback to big cricket has started well, but some people weren't so lucky
January 2, 2012
ESPNcricinfo XI : Welcome back, we weren't expecting you
Players/Officials: George Headley | Ranji | Sanath Jayasuriya | Fred Trueman | Jimmy Cook | Sir Gubby Allen | Jeff Wilson | Wally Hammond | Martin Crowe | Anderson Cummins
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Feeds: Steven Lynch
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