At No.4 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year list – part of the 2020 in Review series – is a dogged fourth innings hundred from Fawad Alam, who scripted a Test hundred 11 years after he last made one.
Fawad Alam 102 (269)
New Zealand v Pakistan
Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
December 26 – 30
Only four batsmen, since the turn of the century, have faced 250 or more deliveries from No.5 or lower in the fourth innings of Test matches. Two of them — Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Faf du Plessis — are perhaps the most resilient batsmen of the 21st century. It just goes on to show how difficult fourth innings batting, especially once the top-order is dismissed, has become in an age where result-oriented Tests are a priority.
One in that elite list of knocks came from the forgotten man of Pakistan cricket: Fawad Alam. Absent for more than a decade from the Test side — Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson weren’t yet Test cricketers when Fawad last played Tests before his return in 2020 — Fawad returned in a tough away series in England, starting off with a duck.
Rameez Raja, former Pakistan cricketer, expressed his disappointment at Fawad’s duck in his first innings since return, terming it a “stunning failure.”
Outside Pakistan, they ridiculed his batting technique and his less-than-pleasing batting stance.
“I don’t understand why they have made that decision to bring in a guy, who has not played for 11 years and is 34 years of age,” former England captain, Michael Vaughan said to Cricbuzz. “It’s very typical of what Pakistan do. With that technique, he [Fawad] is basically facing the wrong way when the ball is being delivered. If the ball is moving an inch, he is going to get out. I don’t think this was the time to play Fawad Alam.”
It’s easy to write off Fawad Alam. That’s all every coach, selector and management team have done in the last decade: ignoring his mountain of runs in domestic cricket and one of the best ever averages in first-class cricket.
In the years he was absent from the national scene, Fawad kept churning up the big runs in domestic cricket. Since the 2005/06 domestic season in Pakistan, Fawad has averaged over 40 in every single season.
Highest average in First Class Cricket by active players (Min: 100 inns)
57.15 Steve Smith
56.99 Hanuma Vihari
56.49 FAWAD ALAM
56.04 Rohit Sharma
53.74 Virat Kohli #NZvPak
— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) December 29, 2020
The hard grind had kept Fawad ready for Test cricket whenever he returned to it. The poor returns in the England series could easily have resulted in another snub, but an injury to Babar Azam meant Fawad retained his place in the XI for the first Test against New Zealand on Boxing Day in Mount Maunganui.
With 373 runs to chase and more than 120 overs to survive, Pakistan were all but written off as they came out to bat in the final innings of the Test. The openers departed for ducks and at 37-3, Pakistan’s innings had gone according to the script most predicted.
In walked Fawad Alam with his thick handlebar moustache, questionable batting stance and truckloads of domestic runs. He, like most, knew this was likely his last chance at making an impression in international cricket.
Fawad played Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson with soft hands, accounting for the late swing and dabbing through gully or point. He was squared up a few times, but never pushed at the ball, instead waiting for it to hit his bat at the last possible moment. Edges died in the cordon or raced past gully. Fawad was patient, composed and everything else he was in each of the 110 first-class games during the time he missed Test cricket.
The Pakistan middle-order batsman was quick to rock back and pull against Neil Wagner’s short ball barrage and never let Mitchell Santner settle down. More than the runs he made, Fawad survived deliveries. He was involved in a 380-ball partnership, the eighth-best in the fourth innings of Test matches, with skipper Mohammad Rizwan.
1st Test hundred 👉 13 July, 2009
2nd Test hundred 👉 30 December, 2020
Never give up 💪 pic.twitter.com/3Iu9pvDQ2I
— ICC (@ICC) December 30, 2020
When he finally rocked back to pull Wagner past mid-wicket for a boundary to get to his second Test century, Fawad had gone more than 11 years between centuries since the first one on debut in 2009.
The 269 balls he faced was the third-best by a batsman at No.5 or lower in the fourth innings of Tests since 2000. Only two visiting batsmen had faced more balls in a fourth innings effort in New Zealand. After a decade of being snubbed, Fawad had scored a century for the ages, silencing the several people who never believed in him or the sheer weight of his runs.