The independent voice of cricket


The Ten: Irresistible Comebacks

by Henry Cowen 15 minute read

Targeted, mocked, derided, taunted – Mitchell Johnson’s relationship with the Barmy Army was never easy, but in the 2013/14 Ashes the moustachioed Aussie produced a rip-roaring return to Test cricket to prove his doubters wrong. But he’s not the first man to get off the canvas and turn things around. Henry Cowen and Richard H Thomas list a few other irresistible comeback tales…

10) Fred Titmus
Middlesex v Surrey, Lord’s, 1982
Having lost four toes to a boat driven by Penny Cowdrey – wife of then England captain Colin – and having retired from the game six years previously, Fred Titmus probably wasn’t the bookies’ favourite to take the match-winning wicket in this Championship game. But the wicket was dry and crumbling and Mike Brearley asked the 49-year-old if he could help out so he muscled in on the spin-twin pairing of Edmonds and Emburey to make three a magic number and nab 3-43 to win the match for his team.

9) Jesse Ryder
Wellington v Otago, Wellington, 2013
To quote Ronan Keating, as Jesse Ryder is probably apt to do, life is a roller coaster. In March 2013 he was the victim of an assault that left him in a medically induced coma, having suffered a fractured skull and a collapsed lung. Thankfully, he was ok and soon discharged from hospital, but in August it was announced that Ryder had tested positive for a banned substance in a routine drug test back in March, resulting in a six-month ban. In October, Ryder made his return having endured seven months out of the game. The opponents? His former team Wellington. The result? A century (117) for Ryder with 22 fours.

8) Geoff Boycott
England v Australia, Trent Bridge, 1977
So miffed was he at being overlooked for the captaincy, Geoff Boycott went into a self-imposed England exile for three years between 1974 and 1977, missing out on 31 Test matches. With England getting pummeled by the Aussies in ’77 he was back in the mix. Cue the deep nadir employed by the comeback-penning scriptwriters as he ran out Nottinghamshire local hero and hooking demi-god Derek Randall. His glove went to his face – it was his error and he looked genuinely sorry. But, never fear, he went on to score a century. It gets even better though, he was on 80 not out at the non-striker’s end in the second dig as Randall hit the winning runs.

7) John Traicos
Zimbabwe v India, Harare, 1992
Surrounded by superstars who lost complete Test careers when South Africa was exiled from the cricketing world, Egyptian-born John Traicos went underneath the radar. He may have lacked the sumptuousness of Procter, Richards or Pollock, but he had one quality their international careers lacked – longevity. While politics and sport reached laboured agreement for South Africa’s return, Traicos just carried on bowling orderly, thrifty off spin. Having played in South Africa’s last Test in 1970, he was well- preserved enough to play in Zimbabwe’s first in 1992; that gap of 22 years remains a beacon of hope for Test discards everywhere.

6) Jeff Wilson
New Zealand v Australia, Auckland, 2005
Proof if proof be needed that there is no intelligent designer responsible for this here world we inhabit. No single being, omnipotent or not, would be so cruel as to afford one man the ability to represent their country at two sports while rendering the majority of us unable to negotiate a broadsheet newspaper. Jeff Wilson sits 11th on the list of all-time try scorers in rugby union but he ain’t bad at cricket either. He made his New Zealand ODI debut in 1993, nipped off to become an All Black legend, and then made a cricketing comeback 12 years later in a T20I. Nice work if you can get it.

5) Wilfred Rhodes
England v Australia, The Oval, 1926
England selector Sir Pelham Warner managed to convince fellow selector Wilfred Rhodes that even at 48 years old he was still one of England’s best spin options. “We think Wilfred, that you should play: you are still the best slow left-handed bowler in England. You can still spin ‘em, you know.” And spin ‘em he could. After four drawn Tests, Rhodes helped win the finale, and thus the urn, with his figures of 2-35 in the first innings and 4-44 in the second. Rhodes’ story is why every single England selector since has always taken their boots to a match, just in case.

4) Graham Thorpe
England v South Africa, The Oval, 2003
The situation facing Graham Thorpe as he walked out to bat for England for the first time in 14 months was far from ideal – a much-discussed divorce behind him, an England career to reignite and his side 400 runs behind South Africa. England needed to win to draw the series and the left-hander had forced his way back into the side. The pressure was on. He scratched his way to 28 overnight (still 319 runs in arrears) then came back the next day to put on a record-breaking 268 with Marcus Trescothick and in doing so scored a thrilling comeback 124. England topped 600, took a lead and then Harmison and Bicknell took over, working over and befuddling the South Africans in equal measure to give England the most unlikely of victories. Alec Stewart bowed out but Thorpey was back. One of the great games.

Amiss and his back-and-across comeback in '76

Amiss and his back-and-across comeback in ’76

3) Dennis Amiss
England v West Indies, The Oval, 1976
Seemingly terrorised by the demonic pace of Lillee and Thomson the previous summer, the usually solid Warwickshire opener hadn’t played for England for over a year as West Indies (themselves possessed of a half-handy battery of quicks) arrived for the final Test of the ‘grovel’ series at The Oval in ‘76. Reinstated at the top of the order – and boasting a new back-and-across technique that would subsequently become the vogue method for dealing with pace – Amiss hit a courageous 203 against an attack comprising Andy Roberts, Vanburn Holder, Wayne Daniel and an on-form Michael Holding, who took 14-149 in the match as Clive Lloyd’s men romped to a highly charged 3-0 drubbing.

2) Eddie Paynter
Australia v England, Brisbane, 1933
After day two Eddie Paynter felt particularly unwell. He headed to hospital and was diagnosed with tonsillitis – time for some bed rest. England started their reply to Australia’s 360 well but then suffered a collapse. At 216-6 it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the bed-ridden man. Bedecked in a sun hat and fuelled by champagne he wandered out to the crease, having checked himself out of hospital against the judgment of his nurses. Twenty-four runs later he was back in bed, still not out but still not well. He returned the next day, all principle and heroism, and fought his way to 83. England went on to win the Test, and the Ashes, Paynter sealing it with a six. “It were nowt but a sore throat,” was the Lancastrian’s assessment.

1) Ian Botham
England v New Zealand, The Oval, 1986
“I don’t live by ‘the rules’ you know. And if there’s one other person who’s influenced me in that way I think, someone who is a maverick, someone who does that to the system, then, it’s Ian Botham.” The words of David Brent, ridiculous of course, but oddly true when it comes to Beefy’s Test comeback in 1986. Dropped for two months after admitting to smoking cannabis he returned to the England scene in a blaze of free-spirited glory. His first delivery saw Bruce Edgar edge behind and left him level with Dennis Lillee as the leading Test wicket-taker. Shortly after he trapped Jeff Crowe lbw to overtake Lillee and break the record. “Here’s what I think of your selection policy… sure I’ve smoked the odd dooby, but will you piss off and leave me alone?” continues Brent. Doubt Beefy could have put it better himself. Who did actually write his scripts?

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99