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Michael Jeh

Where does Amir's comeback rank?

From returning after jail terms to dodging bullets: there's no shortage of stories of redemption and players being granted second chances in cricket

Michael Jeh
Michael Jeh
Six years ago, Mohammad Amir might have wondered if cricket would ever afford him a second coming  •  Getty Images

Six years ago, Mohammad Amir might have wondered if cricket would ever afford him a second coming  •  Getty Images

A poignant moment, a redemption like we've never seen before in Test cricket - Mohammad Amir bowling again at Lord's. After that fateful day in 2010 when he crossed a white line and endured the loneliness of isolation in gaol, he must surely have wondered if the game would ever afford him a second coming. But so it has come to pass.
Cricket has a history of redemption stories, not all of them as dramatic as Amir's, though. For Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, co-conspirators on that infamous day, one wonders whether there will ever be another postscript to their careers. Asif's sublime talents will be more of a loss to the game than Butt's, a decent enough batsman though he was without ever threatening to be one of the greats of Pakistan cricket. Perhaps advancing years will conspire against them making an international comeback.
Old age has done nothing to curb Brad Hogg's amazing return to a cricket career that was all but written off a few years ago. That Western Australia coach Justin Langer is sorry to lose a 45-year-old to another franchise speaks volumes for the success of Hogg's renaissance. To think that a cricketer of that vintage can still command bargaining power to negotiate bigger contracts.
To return to cricket's great comeback stories, let me prod the memories of readers to see if we can think of other tales as wonderfully redemptive as Amir's. My mind darts immediately to Bob Simpson returning to captain Australia during World Series Cricket, in much the same way that Colin Cowdrey fronted up to face Jeff Thomson's thunderbolts earlier that decade.
In terms of recovering from a brush with the law, neither Hansie Cronje nor Mohammad Azharuddin had the opportunity to purge themselves of the stain on their careers after the match-fixing allegations. Like Saleem Malik before them, they were probably too old to start again, despite impressive careers to that point.
Shane Warne had a number of comebacks, from injury, from retirement, and from the drug suspension just before the 2003 World Cup when he allegedly took pharmaceutical advice from his mum. In my opinion, he should have got an extra year for such a lame excuse!
It doesn't get more dramatic than the courage shown by the Sri Lankan cricketers who returned to international cricket after the bus shooting incident in Pakistan. It speaks volumes for their love of the game, undiminished even under a hail of bullets.
Of those cricketers who returned from rebel tours to South Africa in the 1980s to enjoy meaningful international careers, Terry Alderman, Graham Gooch, John Emburey and Kepler Wessels come readily to mind. Wessels' case was unusual in that he not only went on to represent South Africa but also captained them in their inaugural World Cup, in 1992. Gooch and Emburey were also forgiven to the extent that they captained England after the rebel tours, Emburey being even more remarkable by going on a second rebel tour and being picked again for England between 1992 and 1995. Now that's called having your biltong and eating it!
The return of Alderman and Gooch has an ironic twist to it of course - such was Alderman's dominance over Gooch in 1989 that the batsman allegedly requested he be dropped because his front pad kept getting in the way of Alderman's gentle swingers. It was almost a Lazarus moment: asking to be dropped and then peeling off 333 against India barely 12 months later.
As far as I can recall, not many of the West Indies or Sri Lankan rebel tourists had much of a career upon returning from South Africa. Ezra Moseley may have played a few Tests, but he was nowhere near the force he was when he terrorised league cricketers in northern England during the 1980s, myself included.
Some would argue that the vast sums of money in the modern game would act as an encouragement to some players to contemplate a comeback (or delay retirement). Viv Richards had a late dalliance with Rishton in the Lancashire League, after he was past his imperious best, no doubt. I recall being flayed by him when Glamorgan played Oxford University in 1993, when he was all but retired, and I remember thinking it was humbling to imagine him in his pomp if this was what he was like as an "old man".
Conversely, though, I wonder if the less rigorous physical demands of the pre-professional era encouraged a few cricketers to don the whites again, comfortable with their skill levels and not burdened by the demands made in terms of athleticism in T20 cricket these days. Then again, watching the likes of Chris Gayle, Sohail Tanvir and Kieron Pollard in the field now makes you even question that assumption.
What's the opposite of a comeback, when someone simply refuses to desert the troops? In Amir, Pakistan have their youthful hero. In Misbah-ul-Haq, playing in his first Lord's Test at 42, they have the other end of the spectrum covered too. His story is that of the gnarly, grizzled, faithful soldier with an unblemished record who refuses to desert his troops. He, with the charismatic Younis Khan, no stranger to multiple career rebirths himself, provides a safe place for Amir to return.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane