Come Back Chopper

Everybody enjoys a good comeback story. For that matter, even the bad comeback stories have an awkward attraction to them.

There are all sorts of sporting comebacks, based loosely around the three main concepts: success, failure and undecided. I’m nor rugby expert, but presumably Victor Matfield would fall into the third category?

But let’s stick to cricket for now. Kevin Pietersen – the comeback that never was. Graeme Smith – the comeback waiting to happen. Andrew Flintoff – the “I missed all the T20 cash” comeback. Ashwell Prince – the five minute comeback. (Seriously, I bet you didn’t even know Ashy P had retired last season before realising that he was, in fact, both still good enough and still enjoying the game – and promptly resigned with Lancashire.)

My favourite comeback of recent times, however, is taking place in Pakistan over the next couple of days. And it has nothing to do with Shoaib Malik who, as far as I’m aware, never went anywhere in the first place.

Zimbabwe’s Charles ‘Chopper’ Coventry, lest you forget, was an ODI world record holder with a colossal innings of 194 against Bangladesh at his home ground, Queen’s Sports Club in Bulawayo in 2009. He will be featuring in the T20s this weekend two years after his international career had apparently ended.

He was always a precocious talent and still holds the record as Zimbabwe’s youngest first-class cricketer after representing Matabeleland as a wicket keeper batsman 62 days before his 16th birthday. Actually, that first cap was synonymous with much of his life and career. It was a happy accident.

The selected ‘keeper injured himself moments before the toss and young Charles happened to be in the right place at the right time. Chopper made it comfortably through the match and went on to build a career as one of the purest, cleanest ball strikers ever produced in the country – and there have been a few down the years.

Trusting to the point of gullibility, Coventry was universally popular and inevitably at the centre of whatever ‘humour’ was doing the rounds. Frankly, not enough people took him seriously enough and those who did grew frustrated at his inability to maximise a prodigious talent. Three years ago he married, refused the offer of a modest ZC contract, moved to Johannesburg and completed a couple of season of league cricket in Dubai.

The innings of 194 came far closer to breaking him than making him. Zimbabwean sports people can be notoriously insensitive and routinely fail to acknowledge success. “It was only against Bangladesh” – “Anyone can score runs on that pitch” – “Typical, couldn’t finish the job, you just needed six more!” It was a laugh for a while, but eventually it wore him down.

But now he is back, more mature and more relaxed. He is putting no pressure on himself and says he’s just happy to have a second chance. Nobody deserves it more than him.

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