Comebacks can be risky but Lara and Tendulkar show class does endure | Andy Bull | Sport

Between the Women’s T20 World Cup, and England’s warm-ups for their tour of Sri Lanka you may have missed the Road Safety World Series 2020. I did.

Turns out it’s running in Mumbai for the next fortnight, 10 games between five teams, one each from India, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa and West Indies. The organisers are calling the sides “Legends”, which, well, with due respect to Danza Hyatt, who’s batting No 4 for the West Indian team, I’m not sure even the guys he’s been playing with at the Darley Lions in the Ballarat Cricket Association’s first grade this season would be as generous as all that. Even if he did take a hundred off Buninyong back in November.

Not to single Hyatt out. It’s just that I’m not sure how excited I can get about watching him bat against the Indian ‘Legend’ Manpreet Gony, fond as my recollections are of the two one-day internationals he played back in 2008 (8-0-65-2 against Bangladesh and 5-1-1-0 against Hong Kong; he never played again). Still, we should expect a little hype given that the competition’s being run by the sports agency Professional Management Group, and cut them some slack anyway since their aim’s to raise awareness about road safety in Maharashtra. And money, too, if there’s any of it left over when they’ve finished paying the players.

Which there may well be, given they managed to fill the Wankhede Stadium for the opening match between India and West Indies. There was one reason for that. PMG managed to persuade Sachin Tendulkar to come out of retirement. It’s the first time he’s played any sort of game since 2015, when he played three exhibition T20 matches in the USA, and the first time they’ve seen him in India since his played his 200th, and last, Test back in 2013. They’ve roped in Brian Lara, too, as well as Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, and Virender Sehwag. But Tendulkar’s the tent pole propping up the circus.

Wally Hammond’s return to cricket, at the age of 48, saw him ‘a great giant who had bestridden everything, struggling like a starter’. Photograph: ANL/Shutterstock

They can be fraught and tricky things, these comeback matches, even when they’re being done for fun. There are some haunting stories about the last game the great Wally Hammond ever played, when Gloucestershire persuaded him out of retirement for a match against Somerset on the August bank holiday of 1951. He was 48, and had only played four matches of any sort since he quit Test cricket in 1947, the last of them for the MCC against Ireland. Still, the Gloucestershire committee reckoned that if they could only persuade him to play it would be a fillip for their flagging attendances.

And they were right, according to Bristol Evening World people “rolled up to Ashley Down in their thousands, hoping to see the glories of the years between the war recaptured.”

“It was like standing in the presence of God,” Gloucestershire bowler Bomber Wells told Stephen Chalke, years later.

Only God wasn’t what he once was. He came in when the score was 217 for two, and spent the next 18 minutes scratching around for his first run. “It was all rather embarrassing,” Somerset’s Eric Hill told Chalke, “There he was, a great giant who had bestridden everything, struggling like a starter. Just struggling. Looking awful.”

Hammond’s partner at the crease, Arthur Milton, remembered “It was terribly sad, I longed to see him do well. But there he was, cursing quietly as he mistimed balls he once hammered.” After 50 minutes, and seven runs in singles, Hammond was clean bowled “all over the shop” trying to come down the wicket to hit Horace Hazell’s left arm spin.

Hazell wasn’t any too sympathetic. He’d played against Hammond before the war, when he’d taken centuries off Somerset four summers running. “I owed the bugger one”.

You see, these sorts of games may seem tuppenny stakes, (what was a bank holiday game against Somerset, after all, for a man like Hammond, who had taken all those runs off Australia) but there’s risks in them that players of that calibre aren’t used to taking, like the chance that they’ll end up making themselves look all sorts of foolish.

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It was with some morbid curiosity, then, that I turned on the live stream of the India Legends game against West Indies. And here was Lara, coming in at No 3, 50 years old now, and a little thicker around the middle for it. Zaheer Khan was bowling at one end, Gony at the other. Lara took his guard, tapped his bat, and oh, there it was, all that rare old skill, two fours past point, and a third pulled away square with his front leg cocked off the floor, a fourth smashed through long-off after two quick steps down the pitch, a fifth blazed through covers, throwing his bat into his follow-through like he was tossing a scarf across his shoulder.

When Sehwag and Tendulkar came out to bat together a couple of hours later, I was rapt, despite myself. Here was Sehwag, bespectacled now, but batting out of his crease blazing away like the old days had never gone away. And Tendulkar at the other end, hustling quick singles even though he’d promised Sehwag he wouldn’t make him sprint, and 26,000 Indians chanting his name in that familiar old refrain as he set about the West Indian attack. And if they were a motley lot, bowlers who’d barely have troubled him in their pomp, well, for a few minutes that didn’t matter. Because I’d lost myself watching the Master bat one more time.

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