July 30, 2012

We'll be back after this break

Successful Test returns from injuries, bans, exiles, and offending royal sensibilities

Geoff Boycott
After three years of self-imposed exile, Boycott returned to England colours for the third Test of the 1977 Ashes series, at Trent Bridge. He made a hesitant start, being dropped early on in the slips and also running out the local hero, Derek Randall. But Boycott hung on for a century - his 99th in first-class cricket - and completed his 100th hundred in the next Test, in front of his home Headingley crowd, as England secured the series.

After no Test matches for almost six years, Zimbabwe nervously dipped a toe into the water a year ago this week... and ended up convincing winners over Bangladesh; new captain Brendan Taylor led the way with a century. Reality bit back when Pakistan won easily soon afterwards, but Zimbabwe nearly rounded off their comeback season with a victory over New Zealand.

Dennis Lillee
After bad stress fractures in the back jeopardised Lillee's career following the 1972-73 West Indian tour, he roared back two years later in a home Ashes series largely won thanks to his electrifying new-ball partnership with Jeff Thomson. Lillee had been widely written off before that, but he recovered well enough to take 304 more Test wickets after his unscheduled career break.

Dennis Amiss
The 1974-75 Ashes series that revived Lillee had the opposite effect on Amiss, bringing a prolific run with the bat to an abrupt halt. Two more Tests at home against the Aussies in 1975 produced only 19 more runs, and Amiss was dropped, seemingly for ever... but, as the West Indians ran England ragged the following summer, Amiss returned for the final Test, at The Oval. Unveiling a new technique that involved an exaggerated step back and across his crease, he kept 14-wicket Michael Holding out until he had compiled a gritty 203.

Imran Khan
Khan retired after the 1987 World Cup, but was tempted back for a tilt at West Indies - the leading team at the time - by a personal plea from Pakistan's president. And Imran stayed around until the 1992 World Cup, when he took England's last wicket to clinch the final in front of a huge Melbourne crowd. Pakistan's own comeback in that tournament - in which they only survived to the later stages after a match they were about to lose was rained out - is almost worthy of inclusion here too.

Bob Simpson
Simpson emerged from a ten-year retirement to captain an Australian team ravaged by defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Nearing 40, Simmo recaptured something like his old form, scoring two centuries in an exciting home series against India, before bowing out for the second time after a tough tour of the West Indies. He later had a successful stint as Australia's coach.

Ian Botham
After copping a ban for smoking pot, Botham returned to Test action against New Zealand at The Oval in 1986. His first ball back found Bruce Edgar's edge and flew to slip, where Graham Gooch juggled the hot potato but eventually held on. "Who writes your scripts?" enquired a relieved Gooch as he congratulated the returning hero.

George Carew
The Barbados opener Carew made a duck on his Test debut, at home in Bridgetown in 1934-35, and was marooned on zero Test runs for more than 13 years. Recalled to play England in Port-of-Spain in February 1948, he strolled in wearing a brown felt hat and stroked 107, making the lion's share of an opening stand of 173 with the debutant Andy Ganteaume, who made 112. Carew won a place on the Indian tour that followed; Ganteaume didn't (and never did play another Test).

Lala Amarnath
Amarnath scored India's first Test century, against England in Bombay (now Mumbai) in December 1933, but after that series it was more than a dozen years before he played another Test. There were reasons for that: Amarnath was sent home from the 1936 England tour for alleged insubordination against the autocratic captain, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram; then the war cost him several more seasons. But Lala was back in England in 1946, survived the captaincy of another prince (the senior Nawab of Pataudi), then took over as skipper himself. And while we're on the subject, naturally everyone will be hoping that Yuvraj Singh joins this list of successful comebacks shortly!

Younis Ahmed
A combative left-hander, Younis played two Tests for Pakistan in 1969-70. Not long afterwards he picked up a "lifetime" ban for playing in apartheid Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe then was), and looked set to play out his career in county cricket. But in 1986-87, with the ban seemingly forgotten, Younis got the call from Imran Khan to bolster Pakistan's middle order for a close-fought series against India: 17 years after those first two caps, Younis won two more. He might have added to his collection, except Imran was unamused when Younis left the field with a back problem, and was later discovered trying to work off the injury in the hotel disco.

Don Bradman
After a modest Test debut, Bradman was dropped for the second Test of the 1928-29 Ashes series, in Sydney: it was the only time he was ever dropped from any team, anywhere. He still had to field for most of the match, as Bill Ponsford's hand was broken early on by Harold Larwood, but there is a famous picture of the Don carrying the drinks. With Ponsford absent, Bradman returned for the third Test, in Melbourne, scored 79 and 112, and the legend was well and truly launched.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012