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Opinion

A Test team of comeback heroes

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Roar Guru
4th September, 2020
24

On the 13th of August, Fawad Alam, the Pakistan left hander, returned to Test cricket after a gap of more than ten years.

It was long awaited and much anticipated, but eventually it became a case of unlucky 13th for him. He was out for a duck, facing just four deliveries.

Based on some of the articles I have read here, he has both his supporters and critics within the cricket community. I am not going to go into that debate here.

Instead, I will be looking at some of the players who made their Test comebacks memorable in different ways.

Andrew Hilditch (Australia)
The South Australian opener got his chance during the Kerry Packer era, and after failing in India in 1979, he was promptly dumped once the rebels were available again. Out of the national team, he developed his reputation as a solid player of fast bowling, and it was this reputation that saw him recalled in 1984 to face the West Indies’ pace battery at MCG.

On the back of six successive defeats against the Windies, it seemed a desperate call, but it was answered well. Hilditch scored 70 and 113 to deny the West Indies their 12th successive Test victory.

With the exodus of some key players, he was promoted to the vice-captain role behind Allan Border. And he made a terrific start to the Ashes series of 1985, scoring 119 and 80 for a losing cause at Headingley.

But soon the English bowlers sorted him out. His penchant for the hook shot brought frequent troubles for him. In his final Test at the Gabba, he had the honour of being the first of Richard Hadlee’s 15 victims in the match.

Cyril Washbrook (England)
The opener from Lancashire was part of the famous Len Hutton-Washbrook pair, which served England cricket well for more than 50 Tests after World War Two. In his career, there were not one, but too big comebacks.

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After making his Test debut against NZ at the Oval in 1937, he played is next Test against the Indians in June 1946, at Lord’s. It was here that the famous opening pair was formed. He cemented his place in the England team with a string of consistent performances during the Ashes tour later in the year.

But after a disappointing tour down under in 1950-51, where he struggled against the mystery spin of Jack Iverson, his Test career seemed over.

But then in the Ashes summer of 1956, Washbrook, then a selector, was recalled to play as a middle-order bat. His 98 in the first innings and his 187-run stand with skipper Peter May (101) played a big part in England’s comprehensive victory in the Test. He made little contribution at Old Trafford and the Oval, but still had the honour of finishing his Test career finally being a part of an Ashes-winning team.

George Gunn (England)
In his debut Test at the SCG, in December 1907, the Nottinghamshire batsman scored 119 and 74 batting at number three. When he scored 122* at the same venue in February of the next year, his average at the SCG stood at 157.50.

Things however evened out a bit with his duck in the second innings, falling to the left-arm spin of Charlie Macartney.

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Remarkably, only one of his 15 Tests were in England, at Lord’s in the 1909 Ashes summer. He failed miserably, scoring just one run in two innings. It appeared that the Sydney Test of 1912 would be his last.

But in 1930 he was given a recall to the England team to tour the Windies. And although he didn’t score many runs, he finished with 85 and 47 in his final Test at Kingston, Jamaica.

Younis Ahmed (Pakistan)
Younis, a left-handed batsman from Punjab, made his Test debut against NZ at Karachi in 1969, and he scored 62 in the second innings. He played two Tests in the series.

In 1973, he was banned by the Pakistan board for touring South Africa with the DH Robins’ XI. Though the ban was removed in 1979, he remained in the oblivion and it seemed that his international career was over. But then he got a surprise call from the management in the middle of the India tour in early 1987.

With left-arm spinner Maninder Singh appearing as the main threat to Pakistan batting, Imran Khan, the skipper, wanted a left hander in the middle order. So Younis, almost 40 at the time, was given a call.

First, he made his ODI debut at Calcutta, and then he played in the Jaipur Test, returning to Test arena after 17 years.

His scores of 14, 40 and 34* weren’t great, but still he was considered a certainty for the England tour in the summer, given his vast experience in county cricket with different teams. Also, the Pakistanis were looking for a reliable number three bat.

But then during the fourth Test at Ahmedabad, Younis skipped his fielding duties, complaining about some injury. He was later found busy in the floors of a disco. Whether he felt that dancing would be the best way to keep his body fitness high or whether he was practicing for the London clubs, I don’t know.

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What I know is that Imran the skipper wasn’t amused and Younis never played for Pakistan again.

Bob Simpson (Australia)
This in fact is my favourite comeback story in Test cricket. After helping Australia win the SCG Test against India in early 1968 with his leg spin, Simpson returned a decade later to lead the depleted Australian team during the Packer era.

He did an admirable job in the home series against India in 1976. On his return at the Gabba, he top scored with 89 in the Australian second innings in the narrow Australian success. Then he added 176 at the WACA and 100 in the final Test at the Adelaide Oval.

Bob Simpson

(Photo by Don Morley/Allport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

With Jeff Thomson being able to bowl only 3.3 overs in the deciding Test at Adelaide, Simpson was required for some additional bowling duties. And it was his dismissal of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, caught behind by Steve Rixon, that won the Test and the series for the Aussies.

The Windies tour in 1978 proved a less satisfactory experience for both the skipper and for his team. The Aussies lost the series 3-1 although they were distinctly unlucky not to win the final Test at Sabina Park.

Brian Close (England)
Despite being a highly capable all-rounder, Close mostly remained a fringe player for England for more than a decade. He had both his critics and supporters among the England fans. His failed attempt to hit Richie Benaud out of the attack on the final day of the Old Trafford Test in 1961 made him the target of vicious attacks from the media.

Although his effort at Lord’s against the Windies a couple of years later earned him rich plaudits from the pundits, he failed to build on this success.

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However, he enjoyed great success as an England captain in a somewhat Mike Brearley type role. His Test captaincy record shows seven Tests, six wins and one draw. But he was removed from the captaincy in controversial circumstances at the end of the 1967 season. He was already 36, and this would have meant the end of international cricket for most players, but not so if your name is Brian Close.

First, in the summer of 1972, he led the England ODI team in a 2-1 success against Ian Chappell’s Australians. He made his ODI debut a full 23 years after his Test debut.

Even more remarkable was his recall to face the West Indies’ pace battery in the very dry summer of 1976. Tony Greig, the England captain, fondly remembered his heroics at Lord’s against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith in 1963, so he was recalled to face the next generation of Windies pace bowlers, some of whom were half his age at the time.

Things started well for Close, but then came a grey Saturday evening at Old Trafford in the third Test. As Close and his slightly younger opening partner John Edrich went out to bat in the fourth innings, they knew that England had a mountain to climb. The target was 552 and on a murky evening, the West Indies’ pace trio of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel produced relentless short-pitched bowling at a great pace.

It seemed that the trio had the support of their skipper. To their credit, Close and Edrich defied all the hostility for 80 minutes to end the day at 0-21. Both, of course, took a few blows in their bodies.

The Sunday newspapers were unanimously critical of the tactics used by Clive Lloyd’s team. ‘Cricket; ugly cricket’ ran the headline of The Sun.

When play resumed on Monday, the opening pair took the score to 54 out of a team total of 126. Edrich (24) and Close (20) were the top scorers. Interestingly, for both, this would be their last Test innings.

Ijaz Faqih (Pakistan)
The problem for the Karachi-born all-rounder was that he was a right-handed middle-order bat and an off spinner of the quickish variety, and the Pakistan selectors were never fully sure of his role in the national team. A batting average of 32 and a bowling average of 23 over a long first-class career gives an indication of his ability – but he rarely shone in the international field.

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After a couple of failures in Tests against the West Indies and Australia in the early 1980s, his Test career seemed over. But then with the regular offie Tausif Ahmed missing the fourth Test at Ahmedabad in 1987, Faqih was flown in from Karachi as his replacement. He made a memorable yet tragic comeback in to the international scene.

Before coming to the bowling crease he impressed with the willow. Coming to the crease as the number eight batter, he scored 105, his only Test ton. His innings included seven fours and four sixes – quite remarkable given that the Pakistanis took more than 187 overs to score 395 in the first innings.

Then with his very first ball in the match, he uprooted the off stump of the Indian opener Kris Srikkanth. This, however, was his only wicket in the match – and with Tausif regaining his fitness, Faqih was dropped for the next Test despite his hundred. Tausif fully vindicated his inclusion, taking nine wickets in a famous Pakistan victory in the fifth Test at Bangalore.

Faqih did play two more Tests for Pakistan, in the West Indies in early 1988.

Bob Taylor (England)
During the long tour down under in the 1970-71 season, Taylor was the deputy to Alan Knott. And at Christchurch, in the first Test of the NZ series, the England management gave him a chance despite Knott being available.

However, it was after seven more years that Taylor got his next chance during the Packer era. He was already 36 at the time, but still went on to play 57 Tests. Like Geoffrey Boycott, he was a great fitness fanatic, and his high fitness level certainly helped him a great deal.

He had no great reputation as a batsman, but still he did play a couple of vital innings for England. His career-best 97 in the fifth Test at the SCG in 1978-79 played a big part in England winning the Test. Then on an under-prepared Wankhede wicket in February 1980, he batted patiently for more than four hours to score 43 runs.

He gave invaluable support to Ian Botham at the other end. Botham smashed 114 from 144 balls. Beefy also took 13 wickets in the match as England won by ten wickets.

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Generic cricket ball image.

Derek Shackleton (England)
For more than two decades after WWII, Shackleton, a right-arm medium pacer, produced relentless service to his county side Hampshire. But the presence of abundant pace-bowling talents in England during the 1950s meant that he ended up playing just seven Tests.

After making his Test debut in the summer of 1950, he was included in the second-string England team to tour India in 1951-52. There he featured in only one Test, at Delhi.

Then after a gap of 12 years he returned in the famous drawn Test against the West Indies at Lord’s. He had the best Test match of his career, taking 3-93 and 4-72 and providing perfect support to Fred Trueman, who took 11 wickets in the match.

But most people remember him for his role in the final evening drama. He was run out in the final over of the match. Wickets dried out for him after his Lord’s success, and the Oval Test later in the summer was his last.

Wayne Daniel (West Indies)
It’s a great pity that the Barbados quickie played only ten Tests for the West Indies, although some would say that it was expected given that his international career started in the wrong foot.

With Andy Roberts rested with the England tour in the plans, Daniel was expected to make his Test debut at Georgetown, Guyana in early 1976. But incessant rain at Guyana meant that the third Test was shifted to Port of Spain. The change of venue also meant a change of tactics from the home side. A couple of spinners came into the team as Daniel was left among the reserves.

He did make his debut in the fourth Test at Kingston, and then impressed as the third seamer in England in the summer. But the gradual arrivals of Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke and Malcolm Marshall meant that before the end of the decade, he wasn’t even a fringe player in the team.

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He continued to perform admirably in first-class cricket, especially with Middlesex, and finally he was recalled for the India tour during the autumn of 1983. Joel Garner was given a rest, while Andy Roberts was mainly focusing on the ODIs.

More than seven years after playing at the Oval, Daniel returned to the Test team for the second Test at Delhi. Initially, it wasn’t a happy return as both Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar scored aggressive hundreds.

He cleaned up the tail on the second day to finish with 3-86. More impressive was his 3-38 in the second innings. And then on a wicket with uneven bounce in the next Test at Ahmedabad, he took a career-best 5-39 as the home side slumped from 0-127 to 241 all out.

Later in the season he played a couple of times against the Aussies, but his omission from the England tour in 1984 signaled the end of his international career. Even in his final Test he took 3-40 and 1-11, highly respectable by any standards.

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John Traicos (South Africa/Zimbabwe)
Born in Egypt in a Greek family, Traicos – along with his family – moved to Rhodesia soon. Rhodesia was then part of South Afrcia’s domestic cricket, and in February 1970, he made his Test debut for South Africa against Australia.

While the tourists were decimated in the Test series, Traicos’ own contribution in the three Tests was negligible. SA was soon banned from international cricket, but Traicos resurrected his international career in the 1980s playing and sometimes captaining Zimbabwe. And it was in Zimbabwe’s debut Test in 1992 that Traicos made a triumphant return to the Test arena.

The 45-year-old produced a marathon effort of 50 overs, taking 5-86. His victims included Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev. In his final Test at Delhi in the spring of 1993 he produced another 50-over effort, taking 3-186. Kapil Dev, stumped Andy Flower, was his last Test victim.

John Emburey (England) (12th man)
It seems to me that the off spinners have a special ability to make comebacks. Twice, the Middlesex spinner was banned for joining rebel tours to SA, and twice he was recalled after the ban. A number of factors helped his cause – his ability to perform consistently at first-class level plus the England selectors’ great belief in his abilities were the keys. Also on the second occasion he was helped by the change of policy from the Pretoria government.

His first return at Headingley in 1985 was highly successful. His 2-23 and 5-82 helped England take an early lead in the Ashes series. In contrast, at Mumbai in 1993, he went for 144 runs and two wickets against a strong Indian batting line-up. India won the Test to complete their first ever clean sweep against England.

Honourable mention
Sir Wilfred Rhodes (England): His 31-year-long Test career had three major breaks – between 1914 and 1920 caused by the Great War, between 1921 to 1926 and then a four-year break before his swansong in the Caribbean tour in 1930.

Special mention
Fawad Alam (Pakistam): I started this article with Fawad, so it’s quite appropriate that I finish it with him as well.
Since his much talked-about return, he has scored only 0, 21 and 0* in Tests, but I think he deserves at least a couple of chances in more batting-friendly conditions.

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Having said that, with his weird stance, and with his game based on pushes and nudges rather than the drives (that’s the impression I have got watching him score his 21 runs in the series), I as a spectator wouldn’t be ready to pay too much to go to the stadium and watch him bat.