Colin Cowdrey plays with pups in the garden of his family home in Surrey

Cowdrey went from rambunctious pups in his yard to rampaging bowlers at the WACA

© Getty Images

High Fives

Hang on, I'm not done yet

A wily spinner, a pace demon and three batsmen feature in this list of memorable Ashes comebacks

Alan Gardner  |  

Ahead of the returns of Steven Smith and David Warner to the Australia Test team, more than 12 months after they were banned for the Cape Town ball-tampering affair, we delve into the Ashes archives to list five of the great comeback tales.

Wilfred Rhodes (1926)
The lure of summoning a golden oldie back into the fray continues to be an Ashes staple. Think of the talk of a recall for Mark Ramprakash in 2009 (while unfulfilled at Test level, he averaged 42.40 against Australia), or any number of suggestions that Shane Warne could don the whites again. We might even see it this summer, should England's openers struggle while Alastair Cook ploughs his furrow with Essex. Perhaps the greatest example of a nostalgia pick came in 1926, when the 48-year-old Rhodes was persuaded to swap selector duties for a playing role. Five years on from his previous Test appearance, he claimed 6 for 79 at The Oval to help England recapture the Ashes.

Colin Cowdrey (1974-75)
Cowdrey made his England debut at the Gabba in 1954. Twenty years later, after England had been blown away in Brisbane by Jeff Thomson, MCC put in a call to MCC - by then approaching his 42nd birthday - and got him on a plane down under. Cowdrey had not played in more than three years but with Dennis Amiss and John Edrich ruled out by injury, he was parachuted straight into the side for Perth, where he walked out at No. 3. Cowdrey came prepared for the challenge, well padded, taking his blows, and even introducing himself to the fearsome Thommo with a cheery: "Good morning, my name's Cowdrey." He acquitted himself with 22 and 41 at the WACA, and although his returns diminished from there, he made it through his sixth Ashes tour unbowed.

Boycott made 107 and 80 not out in his comeback Test, at Trent Bridge in 1977

Boycott made 107 and 80 not out in his comeback Test, at Trent Bridge in 1977 © PA Photos/Getty Images

Geoff Boycott (1977)
One of the reasons Cowdrey had to go into the breach again was the self-imposed exile of England's premier batsman. No one scored more Test runs for England during the 1970s, and yet, extraordinarily, that was despite Boycott making himself unavailable for selection between the summer of 1974 and his comeback in 1977 - supposedly because he was unhappy at being overlooked for the captaincy. When he did return, after a carefully negotiated rapprochement with chairman of selectors Alec Bedser, Boycott promptly ran out Derek Randall in front of Randall's home crowd at Trent Bridge. Knowing he might get a bit of stick, he knuckled down to score his 13th Test hundred, one he later described as "the finest I ever played". In the next Test, in front of an adoring Headingley audience, Boycott notched his 100th first-class hundred amid scenes of Ashes folklore.

Justin Langer (2001)
Not so much a comeback as a second coming. Langer had already had a few cracks at Test cricket, mainly as a No. 3, and averaged 48.44 during the 1998-99 Ashes - though Nasser Hussain's dismissal of him as the team "bus driver" in 1997 was indicative of the English view. At the start of 2001, Michael Slater was Australia's first-choice opener. Slater made 77 in the opening Test of that summer's Ashes, but didn't manage to pass 25 thereafter, and come The Oval, with the series won, Langer was brought in alongside Matthew Hayden. The rest was Test history in the making, as Langer and Hayden put on the first of their 14 century opening stands on the way to 5655 domineering runs in partnership at the top of the order. Langer rattled off four more hundreds in his next ten innings; Slater never played another Test.

Mitching hour: Johnson blew England's house down in the 2013-14 Ashes

Mitching hour: Johnson blew England's house down in the 2013-14 Ashes © Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson (2013-14)
Cricket's equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger intoning "I'll be back" and then reappearing a few frames later to ram a car through the police station waiting area. Mercilessly mocked by the Barmy Army for his erratic performances in 2009 and 2010-11, Johnson had seemingly lost his way amid poor form and injury, playing only four Tests over a two-year period. Overlooked as Australia lost 3-0 in England as part of back-to-back Ashes campaigns, his unsettling pace during the one-day series was a harbinger of things to come - and once he had been recalled for the Brisbane Test (sporting a Dennis Lillee moustache, no less), the stage was all set for a Test Mitch special. Johnson left his mark on body and psyche, effectively terminating England's ambition on the way to 37 wickets in the series and an indelible place in Ashes history.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick