Tuesday, September 22

Fawad Alam’s Pakistan comeback was ugly but earned after decade of graft | Andy Bull

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for. Fawad Alam’s innings in the second Test probably wasn’t one of them – unless, that is, you happen to have a particularly black sense of humour. Poor Fawad won the last of his Test caps in November 2009. Ten years, eight months, 17 days and 8,348 first-class runs later he was finally back, walking out to the middle at the Rose Bowl with his team 117 for four, Stuart Broad bowling at one end, Chris Woakes the other. He blocked one ball, left the next, played and missed the third, and then he was dismissed, lbw, by the fourth.

The umpire, Richard Kettleborough, gave him not out, so he nearly survived it. Back at the beginning of his Test career, he really would have done, since he made his debut before the decision review system was being used. It was officially brought in (after a couple of trials) for the very last game he played, a Test against New Zealand in Dunedin. Shane Bond got him out in both innings of that match, so at least he doesn’t have to worry about facing him any more since he quit cricket a decade back.

Here it was Woakes who got him, when the review showed the ball would have hit the top of his middle stump.

It was, all in all, one of the uglier ducks anyone has ever scored.

Over the years Fawad has evolved what you might politely describe as one of the more idiosyncratic batting styles, as if he’s grown pinched and crabbed by the disappointment he felt in all those years he was snubbed by the Test selectors while he was piling up the runs in domestic cricket. He begins by standing absolutely square-on outside the leg stump, with his bat sticking out sideways. Then he steps across the stumps, and by the time the ball arrives, he’s pretty much where he needs to be.


Fawad Alam

Fawad prepares to face England’s attack with his unique style. Photograph: Reuters

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun (or the heavy black rain clouds either), and everyone watching immediately set about the task of trying to find someone to compare him to. There was a touch of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for sure, in the way he went shuffling across his stumps, a little of Peter Willey in the way he stood absolutely square on, a dash of Kim Barnett in the fact that he took guard so far outside leg. It was a bit like he misheard his coach’s advice about all the things you ought not to copy. He has ended up with technique that might have been concocted by Heath Robinson, with far too many moving parts.

But it obviously works. Fawad averages 56.78 in first-class cricket, which puts him 23rd on the all-time list (among those who have played at least 50 innings). Funnily enough, one of the 22 men above him is playing in this game too, Ollie Pope. Among the other current players, there is Steve Smith, Hanuma Vihari, who played for India on their last tour here in 2018, and, at the very top a 22-year-old Sri Lankan called Pathum Nissanka, who is averaging 67 for Nondescripts. The difference is, of course, that Fawad has done it over 166 innings, which is many more than any of them, even Smith, who has played 131.

Well, Fawad has had a lot of opportunity to rack them up. Apart from a handful of limited overs matches, he has spent the last decade stuck in domestic cricket. He couldn’t get near the Test squad, even though he made 168 in the second innings of his very first game, against Sri Lanka in Colombo. But he never stopped thinking about it. His Twitter biography says he’s “A man who believes in dreams” and he needs to be, because there must have been points when he must have felt a pretty long way away from achieving them. Just a couple of years ago, while Pakistan were here playing a two-Test series, Fawad was playing for Clitheroe, where he smashed a window after he was timed out in a match against Colne.

That same summer he was also playing for Leek in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire Premier League. There were weekends where he was away playing for one side on the Saturday and the other on the Sunday.

However ugly his batting technique might be, it’s hard not to warm towards a man who is happy to bat No 4 and then bowl 17 overs against Whitmore one afternoon, make the three-hour drive back north that night, then bowl 14 more and bat No 4 against Bacup the next day. Especially when he has one of the highest batting averages in history.

Fawad said before this match that if Pakistan finally picked him he would feel like he was making a second debut. Well first time he had one of those, he made that century in his second innings. Maybe he can again this time too. He certainly deserves it after all these years.

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