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A riposte to savour

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IT is seldom that anyone has to tolerate so much bitterness and anguish that Fawad Alam had to endure when he was unceremoniously thrown out of Pakistan Test side as long ago as November 2009 in New Zealand and since his return to the fold during the England tour this year, the left-hander with the most ungainly batting stance at the crease has literally lived on a knife’s edge.

But who cares about how one approaches his batting rituals and how he stands when facing the bowlers. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was a prime example of someone having more or less the same unorthodox stance that Fawad Alam has. The left-handed Chanderpaul has the statistics to underline his true values to the West Indies during his career which spanned from 1994 to 2015 and during which the crabbiest technique ever seen in international cricket time again proved that there is life beyond the coaching guidelines.

The West Indies didn’t castigate Chanderpaul who plundered 11,867 runs in 164 Tests — the eighth highest aggregate in Test history — as Pakistan did with Fawad, virtually nonstop for more than 10 years while the Karachi-born cricketer was plying his trade season after season in the most emphatic manner imaginable. Never mind, Fawad started his Test career in the unaccustomed role of an opener two years after making his Pakistan debut in the recognized limited-overs formats.

It was a sensational beginning nevertheless for Fawad at the highest form of cricket when in the second innings of his debut Test — he had scored 16 in the first — at Colombo’s P. Sara Oval in July 2009 he fought gallantly for 384 minutes to score 168 from 259 balls against Sri Lankan bowling that included the wily Rangana Herath who eventually dismissed him as Pakistan nosedived from 285-1 to 320 all out on their way to a seven-wicket defeat that also cost them the series.

A brace of 16s in the drawn final Test at the SSC Ground — with Sri Lankan left-arm seamer Thilan Thushara getting rid of him in both innings — was followed by scores of 29 and 5 in the Dunedin Test in which Fawad batted at No 3, and on both occasions New Zealand speedster Shane Bond dismissed him.

That was the end of Fawad’s Test aspirations at the time. The subsequent national selection committees and the Pakistan team think tanks in the intervening years had considered Fawad a persona non grata as far as Test cricket was concerned. No matter how well he performed in the hard grind of domestic cricket, the selectors were least interested at even taking cursory glance at his statistics.

After his highly impulsive and definitely unfair Test axing, Fawad was left with just one available option — that was to score a mountain of runs in the hope that someday someone in the Pakistan cricket setup will eventually turned from being coldhearted to being gracious enough to do a rethink . In the meantime, since his premature exit, Fawad kept on waiting and fighting his guts in the first-class arena across the country.

No one batted his hearts out in the way Fawad did so consistently post-November 2009 onwards and his incredible statistics speak for themselves — 7,922 runs from 164 innings in 110 first-class appearances and averaging a truly astonishing 56.58 while notching up 26 centuries and 33 other scores between 50 and 99.

Situations were deliberately created in the Test side at times to accommodate those who weren’t that consistent in run-making as Fawad had been during this period. From the time Azhar Ali and Umar Amin were together blooded (against Australia during the offshore series) in Test cricket in 2010, Pakistan have tried no less than 16 specialist batsmen, including openers — the rest in order of baptism have been Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Ayub Dogar, Nasir Jamshed, Shan Masood, Ahmed Shehzad, Sami Aslam, Iftikhar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Sharjeel Khan, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Usman Salahuddin, Fakhar Zaman and Abid Ali — and of them just a handful managed to sustain themselves in terms of longevity, endurance and performance.

Considering the circumstances Fawad was facing at the Bay Oval on Wednesday following a low-key return to the Pakistan XI —after scores of 0, 21 and 0* in the back to back Southampton Tests against England — his redemption as Test batsman has been a perfect riposte to his ever-growing list of detractors. For sheer guts, mental toughness and steely determination there is no better example than Fawad and given the way he has survived, there are still loads of runs left in the 35-year-old’s bat.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2020


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