Zimbabwe cricket January 31, 2009

Vermeulen poised for remarkable comeback

Mark Vermeulen in action during Zimbabwe's 2003-04 tour of Australia © Getty Images
Mark Vermeulen is poised to make the unlikeliest of international comebacks a little more than two years after he burnt down Zimbabwe Cricket's academy and tried to set fire to the ZC boardroom.

He was cleared on grounds of mental illness by a Harare court a year ago after it was revealed he suffered from a serious depressive illness.

Although he resumed playing club cricket, few believed he had any hope of returning to the national side given his many problems. Shortly before the attacks in October 2006, he had been banned from playing club cricket in England for ten years - later reduced to three - after an incident where he clashed with spectators in a league match.

In May 2008, Vermeulen publicly offered to help rebuild the academy if he was handed a central contract, but nothing came of it.

However, Ozias Bvute, ZC's managing director, confirmed to Cricinfo that Vermeulen would be offered a chance of rehabilitation. "We have allowed Mark to participate in our leagues. There was actually no ban on him, but relations were restrained after the two arson attacks."

In a separate interview with the local Independent newspaper, Bvute said: "He approached us with a desire to play in our leagues. Having weighed various issues we decided it was in his best interest to be allowed to play since he indicated that cricket was the only thing he lives for.

"Should he make the grade, he will be selected [for the national team]. The decision was driven by a desire to help rehabilitate him, taking into account that he served Zimbabwe well when he first played for the national side. Life is such that everyone deserves a second chance."

Vermeulen played 32 ODIs and eight Tests between 2000 and 2004 but was no stranger to controversy. In 2003, he was sent home from the tour of England because of disciplinary problems, and as schoolboy he was once banned for walking off with the stumps after receiving a poor lbw decision and locking himself in the changing room.

Nevertheless, on his day Vermeulen, who is still only 29, is a good top-order batsman and if he can regain his form then he is likely to be pressing for a recall in the near future.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa