Sport: Best and worst comebacks

Stacey Jones (L), Shane Warne (C) and Jennifer Capriati. Photo / Getty Images.
Stacey Jones (L), Shane Warne (C) and Jennifer Capriati. Photo / Getty Images.

Legendary Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne has today caused a media flurry, after hinting that he could be persuaded to make a dramatic return to the international crease, five years after retiring from test cricket in 2007.

The 43-year-old said that he has 'absolutely no doubt' he could bowl at test level again, and would happily don the baggy green if asked by captain Michael Clarke.

The art of the comeback can be a tricky business for elite sportsmen and Warne's outburst today had cricket fans around the world questioning whether it is possible and/or a good idea.

The likelihood of Warne being called up seems unlikely, but so did the ten examples below of exceptionally good and bad comebacks in sport.

Here are our five best and worst examples.

Best comebacks

Jack Nicklaus - Golf
Widely regarded as the man who took golf from a sport played by badly dressed rich folk to a spectator sport for the masses, the Golden Bear dominated golf for two decades.

After picking up his first major, the US Open in 1962, Nicklaus picked up 16 more in 18 years. He won all four majors at least three times and notched over 100 professional wins.

But by 1986, the 46-year-old had won just two tournaments in five years. Before the Masters, a journalist said Nicklaus was "done, washed up, through". Nicklaus was enraged. "I kept thinking all week, 'Through, washed up, huh?' I sizzled for a while. But then I said to myself, 'I'm not going to quit now, playing the way I'm playing. I've played too well, too long to let a shorter period of bad golf be my last'."

On the back nine of the final round he shot a 6-under 30 to storm to victory and claim his sixth green jacket.

Josh Hamilton - Baseball
"To let you know how far I've come, let me tell you where I've been. Not that long ago, there were nights I went to sleep in strange places praying I wouldn't wake up."

Those are the opening words of crack addict-turned-baseball superstar Josh Hamilton's account of how he plumbed the depths of despair before staging a recovery that warmed hearts all over America.

The first pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft, Hamilton received a US$3.96 million signing bonus from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His problems began when some buddies convinced him to blow the lot on drugs and booze. Failed drug tests, bans and sackings followed.

Three years and eight failed stints in rehab later, Hamilton kicked his habit. After a comeback season in Cincinnati, he was traded to the Texas Rangers where he became the first player to win back-to-back player of the month awards in the first two months of the season.

He crowned his comeback by winning the MVP award that season. Earlier this year he became just the 16th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in one game.

George Foreman - Boxing
Almost 20 years after losing his title to Muhammad Ali in the Zaire Jungle, 45-year-old preacher and grill salesman George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history.

So distraught was Foreman at losing to Ali in Kinshasa that he retired.

His first comeback two years later was a disaster. After running out of puff and losing a 12-round decision to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico, Foreman claimed he had endured a near-death experience.

His second comeback began in 1988 with a string of victories before, in 1991, he challenged Evander Holyfield. He went the distance, staggering Holyfield several times in the middle rounds with sharp jabs and clubbing combinations before the younger man's superior conditioning saw him close out the fight on points.

Jennifer Capriati - Tennis
A "poster child for burned out sports prodigies" - as the Chicago Sun-Times called her - at 13 Jennifer Capriati was already a match for most grown women.

She turned pro before her 14th birthday, knocking out four seeds in her first tournament, only losing the final. Three months later, she became the youngest semifinalist at the French Open, a feat she emulated at Wimbledon the following year.

The next year she won the women's singles gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona but shoplifting and marijuana convictions followed soon after she quit the tour. An attempted comeback in 1994 lasted just one match but in 1996 a second attempt saw her begin a steady rise that would culminate in the World No 1 ranking.

Allan Langer - Rugby League
When the champion Brisbane, Queensland and Kangaroos halfback quit the Broncos mid-way through the 1999 season, a truly great career looked to have ended. With 240 first grade games, 30 State of Origin matches and 23 tests to his name, the jaded Langer seemed to be a spent force.

With Super League still serving as a retirement home for washed up NRL stars, it was no surprise to see Langer take up a contract with Warrington Wolves the following year. Nor was it a surprise when Queensland coach Wayne Bennett recalled the ageing Langer from England for the deciding match of the 2001 Origin series - outright shock was more the reaction, with pundits queuing up to label it pure desperation.

Phil Gould was moved to question the depth of Queensland's football talent given they had to "bring back 35-year-olds to win". Langer's return, however, was a triumph as the oldest player to play Origin football set up two tries and scored one himself to lead Queensland to victory.

A year later he was lured back to the Broncos for one final season and again appeared in the Origin series, being named man-of-the-match in the third and deciding game.

Worst comebacks

Bjorn Borg - Tennis
Swede Bjorn Borg is one of the greatest tennis stars of all time, winning five consecutive Wimbledon titles and four consecutive French Opens during his career.

But eight years after retiring he made a comeback - including ditching the graphite rackets which he had used on the demonstration circuit for wooden rackets.

He lost every single game on his comeback and only won three sets in nine matches. He finally retired for good in 1993.

Mike Tyson - Boxing
'Iron' Mike's comeback in 1995 after serving three years in prison was somewhat successful.

He regained one of the heavyweight titles he first won in 1986 but it all went down hill from there.

He lost his much-anticipated fight with Evander Holyfield in 1996 before shocking the boxing world by biting a piece of Holyfield's ear off in their rematch a year later.

Tyson went on to fight for the title once more in 2002 but was embarrassed by Lennox Lewis. He retired in 2005 after two consecutive knockout losses to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride.

Ian Thorpe - Swimming
Australian swimmer Thorpe won five Olympic gold medals in total at the 2000 and 2004 Games but quit in 2006 at the age of 24, citing waning motivation.

The "Thorpedo" announced his comeback to great fanfare in 2011 and set his sights on qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics.

But at the Australian Olympic trials in March 2012, Thorpe failed to get past the semi-finals in either the 100m or 200m freestyle, telling reporters afterwards: "The fairytale has turned into a nightmare."

Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne - Soccer
Paul Gascoigne was one of the most naturally talented players to lace on a pair of football boots - but was never far away from controversy.

After starring for Newcastle and then Spurs Gazza signed to play for Lazio in Serie A but struggled to regain the form that made him one of the best players in the world.

That form was regained when he signed for Rangers in 1995 and had three fantastic years at Ibrox. After Scotland he played for Middelsborough and Everton before turning out for Burnley and Chinese club Gansu Tianama.

After a little time out of the game Gascoigne signed for Boston United but left after only 11 games. His football career finally came to an end in 2005 after he was sacked as manager of Kettering Town after 39 days due to his alcohol problems.

Stacey Jones
One of the greatest Kiwi rugby league players of all time, Stacey Jones, had differing fortunes in his two spells with the NZ Warriors.

He left in 2005 after a stellar career to play for Catalans Dragons in the UK Super League, but shocked everyone with his return to the Warriors as a player in 2009.

The season started brightly and he led the team to victories, but his early good form didn't last and he left the Warriors again at the end of the season after the finished 14th in a 16 team league.

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