The pathway into any Test side is not a yellow brick road. You don’t just set your GPS to Boxing Day, drive your way there, grab your kit bag from the car and enter the locker rooms.
Instead, it is a cheeky labyrinth. Multiple twists and turns, ounces of luck and a solid desire to succeed.
However, despite this, there are volumes upon volumes written about the cursed cricketers who did everything right and still didn’t get a shot.
The T20 age promised us an alternate pathway.
But those gifted caps without earning them through First Class toil rarely last long. David Warner is the poster child of the exception, but this shortcut hasn’t exactly delivered many other Test superstars.
Thankfully, it isn’t just runs or wickets that dictate your selection merits. There needs to be an available spot, a cultural fit and the bunch of old men who select the team need to be positively disposed to your name.
In recent memory, Fawad Alam stands the tallest amongst First Class giants for whom the God of Fairness chose to ignore. That’s because Test cricket simply isn’t fair.
This Karachi native has recently turned 31 years of age. He has played only 3 Tests. In those, he made a ton and averaged 41.66. It’s a small sample size but it gives us a flavour. The kid can play.
It is now over seven years since he last wore both that green cap and white clothing.
But he hasn’t given up. He has done what every selector has ever told him. “Just go out and make runs son” they say. And make runs he has.
Over 10,000 First Class runs. 24 hundreds. An average of 56.82.
This is no statistical anomaly. This is simply a batting Zeus.
In June this year, chief selector Inzamam ul Haq stated that Fawad was one of the four fittest players that attended a full squad military training camp.
But he still can’t break into the Test team.
It’s as if Fawad is Pakistan’s Michael Hussey. However, Hussey was blessed with that small snippet of luck that would give him a shot in his thirties. He also went on to be one of Australia’s greatest ever middle order batsmen. But Hussey also needed to post over 10,000 First Class runs at an average over 50 before that chance came.
Fawad is still waiting for his invite to play again.
But while he waits, he has refrained from publicly rocking the boat too much. Sure, he has vented his frustrations in the media from time to time, but they are cries of disappointment and not attacks on the selectors or potential team mates.
Fawad knows that runs alone do not guarantee a Test birth. It is more complex than that. Appearances are also equally as important. It matters little whether he agrees with this sentiment, but that’s an unwritten rule of the game.
Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, Glenn Maxwell plays the role of Australia’s Fawad Alam. Well, at least he does in his own mind.
Lile Fawad, he also harbours an ambition to build on his three Test matches. But unlike Fawad, he hasn’t a Test century to his name, his Test average is a horrible 13 and he is having a rubbish First Class domestic season, delivering only 25 runs per innings.
Some point to his preceding Shield season where Maxwell returned a respectable average of 56. But dig a little deeper and none of his nine innings returned the magical triple digits. And without hundreds, should he be seriously considered as a Test hopeful? Australian coach Darren Lehmann has publicly said that he doesn’t think so.
In a comical manoeuvre, Maxwell attempted to move to New South Wales before this summer began. It is highly likely he viewed this as the best way to help improve his selection chances. But it is important that the rules of the competition are followed. Submitting your transfer papers ninety days after the window closes is not the recommended method.
This failed switch clearly left a bad taste in the mouths of his Victorian squad. He was made 12th man for the first match of the season. The message was clear, even if Maxwell chose not to hear it. Shield cricket is a team sport that aims to produce Test cricketers. It is not there to only pamper those with a sense of entitlement.
Victorian captain Matthew Wade also had Test recall hopes. His Shield average is 38. A miserly single run less than Maxwell’s Shield average. Wade chose to bat above Maxwell in the matches that they played together. A circumstance that Maxwell disparaged through the Australian press.
His selfish remarks didn’t go unnoticed.
One could ask as to why Wade should have his ambitions placed aside for a competitor? One whose First Class batting average is eerily similar to your own, but who owns a record lacking your century count by about half. A competitor that has shown he’d rather be somewhere else.
Just as Maxwell has shown he can change a white ball game with his own bat, Wade has actually done it with the red ball while on national duty. In fact, in 21% of Wade’s Test innings, he has reached a score of fifty or more.
And herein lies the problem.
Despite his “Big Show” imprimatur, Maxwell offers nothing unique or special. He provides no more proven surety of performance than a Matthew Wade. Purists would argue that it is in fact less, because at least Wade has done something of value at Test level.
But when you mix in his latest public outburst against his skipper, Maxwell quickly slides down the list of probable long form players to just a short form side show. And even that is questionable, given his last seven ODI innings have returned only one double figure score.
Teams these days no longer accept personalities that are too self focused. Pakistan killed off the Akmals and Maliks and Afridis. England killed off Kevin Pietersen. Australia recently fired a shot across the bow of Khawaja. He however clearly took on the message and has responded in spades.
Maxwell won’t get that chance. His brownie points are all used up. When you compound that with the lack of scores, why would a selector bother sticking their neck out for him?
Maxwell believes that he’s a chance for the upcoming Indian. On what basis is anyone’s guess? While the reverse sweep may look spectacular, it is not a secure way to bat time on dustbowls. Australia have also tried him there before in Test match cricket. He batted four times and delivered a nasty average of 9.75.
Why would this time be any different? What’s changed?
He’s not currently making runs and he is causing angst in the dressing room.
Maxwell is owed nothing. Nor is Fawad Alam.
But at least one is playing the game properly both on and off the field. And for that reason, the cricket world wishes him all the very best. Guys with 10,000 First Class runs at over 56 are special. Australia would give their left nut for a bloke like that right now.
But until Maxwell realises that he isn’t due some kind of sporting white male privilege just because he plays trick shots, that baggy green cap he craves will be and should be a distant dream.
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