Rohit Sankar celebrates Fawad Alam, a cricketer finally out of the shadows.
Here’s what we know about Fawad Alam so far. He made a Test hundred on debut in 2009. He was discarded after playing three Test matches. He made 7,965 first-class runs at an average of 56.49, including 26 hundreds during his time away from the national team. Pakistan played 88 Test matches in between 2009 and 2020 during Fawad’s absence. Fawad’s batting stance went from awkward to super awkward, to ‘what in the world is this?’. The runs kept flowing, though. He was recalled to the Test XI after 11 years away. He made a duck on his comeback. Since then, he has four hundreds in 10 Tests. The selectors, several of them, were wrong. Fawad and his fans were right. It’s an absolute shame that Test cricket did not get to see Fawad for more than a decade.
This we know. If we didn’t, it’s been told and retold time and time again. 13 Test matches into his comeback, Fawad has silenced every voice that questioned him, every selector that shunned him and become an integral part of the Pakistan Test side. In one line, the Fawad story would probably be: 13 Test matches, with five hundreds in five different countries, across 12 years.
“I don’t think about the 10 years going to waste,” Fawad said at the start of this year with a sense of utmost calm, despite the questionable treatment of him by the national selectors.
Let’s not go into it either. But, let’s ponder how Fawad, from nowhere, at the age of 35, turned into one of Pakistan’s most valuable Test assets.
The second match of his comeback story was Asad Shafiq’s last Test. Shafiq is not in the same league as Younis Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq, or Azhar Ali. He isn’t naturally gifted like Babar Azam either. But for a decade, Shafiq was the rock in Pakistan’s middle order, churning out the hard runs from No.5 and No.6. During his time with the Test side, Shafiq was the third-highest run-scorer for Pakistan behind Azhar and Younis.
He is also a Test discard that’s hardly been talked about in the last year. The one who seems to have taken his spot in the side (Fawad) is 112 days older than him. Sure, Shafiq averaged just 22 in his last four Tests and hadn’t made a Test hundred for two years. But only one man has made more runs than him at No.6 in Test history: Steve Waugh. We are talking about someone who played 72 Test matches in a row, the most by anyone from Pakistan, between 2011 and August 2020, when he played his last Test. Only 18 players have had longer streaks in Test history, all legends in their own rights. Don’t believe me? Scan the list yourself.
It’s not like Shafiq did not try to squeeze back into the Test side. In the 2020/21 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Shafiq finished as the seventh-highest run-scorer. Playing for Sindh, Shafiq made 748 runs in 10 matches in the season, averaging 53.4 with two hundreds and five fifties. Despite his runs while away from the team, Shafiq hasn’t exactly been missed. He lost his central contract two months ago while Fawad was promoted to category B, the same as that of Yasir Shah and Azhar.
After scores of 0, 21 and 0* in England on his comeback tour, Fawad was taken to New Zealand, a country boasting of one of the best bowling attacks in the world. In the first Test at Mount Maunganui, Pakistan were faced with a monumental task – to save a Test match by batting for more than four sessions against a four-man pace attack that eventually won New Zealand the inaugural World Test Championship title. Pakistan came within just minutes of doing so. Leading the way was Fawad with a stoic 269-ball 102. Only five batsmen had faced more deliveries when coming in to bat at No.5 or below in the fourth innings of a Test.
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) January 1, 2021
In his first home Test the following month, Fawad reeled off another century against South Africa. The men batting above him combined to make 71 runs (in Mount Maunganui it was 47). Fawad made 109 and finished as the Player of the Match. Two Tests later, he compiled 140 against Zimbabwe in Harare.
In the first Test against West Indies earlier this month, Fawad made 56 off 117 balls, walking in at 68-3 which soon turned into 68-4 with Babar’s wicket. When Fawad was dismissed as the ninth man, Pakistan had made 217. In the second Test, walking in at 2-3, Fawad scripted one of his best Test tons yet: a gripping 124 not out, fighting cramps and a strong West Indies pace attack.
Since his comeback, Fawad has been talked about not only for his runs, but for his unorthodox batting stance. He is Pakistan’s third-highest run-scorer behind Azhar and Rizwan. He also averages more than any other teammate and has two hundreds more than any of them. He’s also kept one of the world’s greatest lower middle-order batsman, who served the country in the decade he was grinding it out in domestic cricket, out of national team reckoning.
Fawad will be 36 in the next couple of months, but his Test journey is only beginning. No one can give him back the decade of international cricket he lost. But no one can take away the next few years he appears ready to dominate.