Fawad Alam’s first Test match on home soil saw him compile a fantastic hundred in Karachi, a knock that occupies the fifth spot in Wisden’s list of the best Test innings of the year – part of the 2021 in Review series.
Fawad Alam 109 (245)
Pakistan v South Africa
National Stadium, Karachi
January 26-29, 2021
The human mind is trained to fall in love with places we associate ourselves with most. It’s probably why most people struggle to move on from a place and settle down in another particular city for an entire lifetime. For Fawad Alam, the Pakistan veteran who is still taking his first steps in Test cricket at 36, Karachi is that city — where his dreams were made and never quite fulfilled until a new ray of sunshine late in his career stuck around to create a summer.
“I had my heart set on playing a Test match at my home ground in Karachi. This was also my Test debut in Pakistan,” Fawad Alam said in 2021 shortly after he made a dream Test ton on his home ground against the visiting South African side.
If you don’t believe in destiny, Fawad’s story could change your mind. His wait for a Test comeback lasted 11 long years and saw Pakistan go through multiple sets of coaching staff and selectors. Nothing changed for Fawad. For him, domestic cricket was that one video game level he completed over and over multiple times, but a glitch meant he could never go over to the next level.
Looking at Fawad’s first-class career, no one could think otherwise. Why he was denied opportunities we may never know, but why he deserved more opportunities is written large across each innings he compiles on the international stage now.
Throwback to Karachi in 2021, and Fawad was still new to international cricket’s new habits. Today, you are either good enough to make the reels or bad enough to get into the memes. With Fawad’s awkward stance, he was duly placed in the latter category until he changed opinions and rewrote words with his fighting hundred at Mount Maunganui against New Zealand. It put to rest inevitable questions that arose after a duck in his first innings on return to Test cricket in England earlier in 2020.
But the scrutiny never ceases on players in their mid-30s, especially if you haven’t been around for as long as Fawad wasn’t. Ask the player whose stance he almost emulates perfectly – Shivnarine Chanderpaul. That he wasn’t pleasing to the eye made Chanderpaul a largely underrated Test cricketer despite him carrying the West Indies Test batting line-up for years.
Before he could soak in the feeling of returning to Karachi, the home he had fallen in love with, Fawad was padding up to face Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Keshav Maharaj, and George Linde with his side reeling at 27-4.
Fawad was in familiar territory, though. Nearly one-fifth of his first-class runs have come at the National Stadium in Karachi. His average in the ground at the time was a shade under 70. If anyone knew to conquer the pitch, it was Fawad. He had entered his dream, now it was time to conquer.
He batted like a man possessed: five hours and fifty-three minutes, spanning 245 balls and recording 109 to his personal tally, a landmark hundred that came with a thumping six off Maharaj to the empty stands in the National Stadium.
“I have always been saying that fate had this for me. That if it was in my destiny, then nobody could have taken it away from me,” Fawad had told ESPNCricinfo in an interview before the Test.
At that moment, the very purpose of Fawad’s return seemed to be for him to bask in the glory of being a Test cricketer for Pakistan again in the very stadium he had built his exceptional career on. No matter how the rest of his Test career pans out, he’ll always have that Karachi ton to cherish.