Fine wines can mature and deliver greater satisfaction having been set aside for years until ready for drinking. So it is with cricketers, particularly Test cricketers. Early promise may quickly fall away and lead to disappointment and discarding, which was a journey all too familiar to many England cricketers in the 1990s.
Some never experience the Test arena again. However, for others, the break can lead to re-emergence and blossoming second time around.
Ex-England fast bowler and 2005 and 2009 Ashes winner Steve Harmison clearly sees that potential for Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth and has suggested that he should be “in the conversation” for a Test recall this summer.
Lyth’s seven Tests to date were all in 2015 against New Zealand and then Australia as England searched desperately for a reliable opener to replace Andrew Strauss alongside Alastair Cook.
That 2015 summer for Lyth was the archetypal early promise and rapid descent experience. A ton at Headingley against the Kiwis, in a match New Zealand dominated, suggested England may have found their new Strauss. However, a combination of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle all found ways to remove Lyth cheaply as the harsh realities of facing world-class strike bowling hit home.
Lyth, though, is certainly hitting his straps for Yorkshire this season, scoring 488 runs at an average of 97.60* including two centuries in the first three games of the season. Only Durham’s David Bedingham (565) has scored more. Given that early season April wickets can be a seamer’s delight and an opener’s graveyard, that is a very decent return.
When interviewed, Harmison said: “I played alongside Lythy, he’s a great kid, a fantastic character. Good guy to have around and somebody that has that Yorkshire grit about him. Again, I go back to Sam Robson and I’ll say it many times over the course of the next five or six weeks. These players get picked very early and don’t get looked at again because they seem to get discarded.
“A lot of occasions they’re actually better players when they’ve been discarded.”
Robson has also been in very fine nick for Middlesex this season. His England experience was similar to Lyth’s but a year earlier in 2014. Against Sri Lanka and India, he registered an early century, also at Headingley, only for form to desert him, although not as dramatically as the Yorkshireman’s.
Both Robson and Lyth may well loom large in the considerations of Chris Silverwood – a Yorkie himself – and Ashley Giles and, if they do, they might yet add their name to a notable list of “second comings”. Here are three comeback kings, whose extended wait between Tests was rewarded by great performances.
1. Chris Rogers
In 2008, the nuggety Aussie opener replaced an injured Mathew Hayden at the WACA. Scores of four and 15 against India might have been disappointing, but it seemed even worse for Rogers, who looked to be a nailed-on member of the “one- Test wonder” club. Yet, by early 2014, he had not only added another dozen caps to the single Baggy Green awarded six years earlier but also starred in two Ashes series, including the 2013-14 whitewashing of England. At Chester-le -Street, he became the second-oldest man to score a maiden Test century for Australia, behind the 37-year-old Arthur Richardson in 1926 and by his 25th and final Test, had registered five hundreds, 14 fifties and an average of 42.85. Proof indeed that dedication, technique and piling up runs on tricky English county wickets was worth its weight in Aussie gold.
2. Fawad Alam
A prodigy who made his first-class debut at 17, the Pakistani left-hander with the distinctive stance played his first three Tests in 2009, registering 168 on his debut against Sri Lanka, the first Pakistani to score a Test century on debut away from home. But like Robson and Lyth, the promise was not sustained – and New Zealand seemingly brought down the curtain on his Test career that same year. By 2019, although having made some impact in T20s and ODI, he was so convinced his Test cricket days had gone, he started acting. But in 2020, by popular demand, he was back, centre stage against England in the biosecure Rose Bowl bubble. As he trudged back to the pavilion four balls later without scoring, he may well have reflected that the non-speaking bit part was scant reward for an 11-year wait. However, two tons against New Zealand and South Africa have kept him well and truly in the Test spotlight.
3. Colin Cowdrey
To be honest, the great Michael Colin Cowdrey does not fit the mould of ‘better second time around’, but his second coming was certainly memorable. Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge, as he was later to become, was already a legend of the game due to a twenty-year career where he distinguished himself in no less than 114 Tests, captaining England in 27 of them and averaging a an excellent 44.07. The English gentleman, with the initials MCC, will always be remembered for exceptional bravery after his arm had been broken by Wes Hall. Unbowed when England needed six to win with three ball, out walked Cowdrey, arm in plaster. In the event, David Allen chose to block as the match ended in a memorable draw. In 1971, he was convinced that his test career had finally reached its conclusion. Three years late though, after Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson had laid low a succession of England’s ill prepared batsmen, the 42-year-old Cowdrey responded to a cry for help with “I’d love to”. Having famously introduced himself to the lethal Thomson with: “I don’t believe we’ve met. The name’s Cowdrey” he weathered much of what the fearsome Lillee and Thommo could throw at him. A Test recall perhaps more famous for pure English pluck and fortitude rather than its volume of runs, it was nonetheless an unlikely return to be remembered.
*He got a golden duck today. Typical!