Originally published in Dawn 13/7/2020
Early March 2020 — Gaddafi Stadium
Fawad Alam sits alone on the dreary concrete steps in front of the press box at Gaddafi Stadium.
In the age of people tearing down statues of one culture’s past heroes due to their sins against another, it is surprising that Gaddafi’s name still stands here as a monument of nationalistic pride.
Whatever your views on naming your home cricket stadium after a non-cricketer with a polarising background, it doesn’t change the fact that sitting here on those dreary concrete steps, Fawad Alam’s beard oil is glistening under the floodlights in his brilliant facial hair.
Another Pakistan Super League (PSL) match has been completed. The Lahore Qalandars, the T20 franchise with the worst win-loss record in the history of all T20 leagues globally, has just defeated the current title-holders Quetta Gladiators.
Fawad was not involved in any of the on-field battles. The PSL has long rejected him. T20 globally has rejected him. He hasn’t played a franchise match anywhere in the world since 2018.
What does Fawad Alam still have to do to prove himself? Will the most-famous cricketer who never gets picked finally get a chance to show his worth in the upcoming England tour?
He is now beginning his apprenticeship as a post-match host. Tiny insignificant interviews, that barely last two minutes, with a player after the match for a sponsor that we’ve already forgotten.
I have gotten to know Fawad during this PSL and take a seat next to him.
“I want to be better in front of the camera, like you,” he says to me.
It’s not often that a cricketer suggests that they want to learn anything from me.
Adam Gilchrist once asked me for feedback on his first few matches as a Big Bash commentator via a Twitter private message. I remember showing that message to a friend at the time to check that someone wasn’t pranking me.
It’s a cold night in Lahore. I blush and pause for a moment to consider how irrational Fawad’s comments are.
“The best advice I was ever given was to take acting lessons,” I reply. “It is amazing how well they help you present to an audience you cannot see through a lens.” It is the best I could come up with. I’m no media starlet. What would I know?
Months later, Fawad would appear in a Pakistani sitcom. I like to think that our conversation that night perversely helped him get there.
We carry on the discussion and share experiences for a few more minutes. I’ve got to know Fawad somewhat through this PSL season as we had bumped into each other here and there.
He’s a quiet and humble man. Dedicated to fitness and hard work. His cricketing story is one of unrequited love with the Pakistani national teams. But he doesn’t point the finger, offer excuses or place blame on others.
“Insha’Allah, I’ll play for Pakistan again.” He says these words with a cheeky smile. Many others in his situation, in that honest moment, would have said it forlornly.
But Fawad is not like many others.
June 2016 – Lahore
The army camps are complete. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) spent nearly US $100k on them. This is serious stuff.
Coach Mickey Arthur said that his squad needed to treat fitness with proper respect. No more biryani. More time in the weights room. Cultural change is the aim.
Thirty-one players were sent to the camp. Half of the squad failed to pass the fitness tests. However, Fawad Alam, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan passed with flying colours.
Two of those players would ultimately travel to England and leave a legacy that cricket will never forget. Salutes. Push-ups. Hundreds and double hundreds. A 2-2 Test series draw away from home.
A few months later, Pakistan would be ranked the number one Test team in the world.
Fawad Alam missed out on selection for that tour. Iftikhar Ahmed took his spot. The official PCB line was that Iftikhar offered an off-spin option. Apparently, part-time off-spin is a critical skill required for a batsman.
For the record, Fawad Alam’s First Class bowling strike rate is better than Pat Symcox’s Test bowling strike rate.
When I asked Mickey Arthur directly why Fawad Alam wasn’t chosen for the tour, he told me that his technique wouldn’t stand up to Anderson and Broad. Apparently, his technique isn’t world class enough.
It was a difficult message to accept.
Fawad averaged 56 in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy during the preceding series. In fact, Fawad averages over 56 in his First Class career. He has made over 12,000 runs in the format. The stats show that Fawad passes 50 every third innings that he plays.
These are the numbers of a world class batsman.
I wonder what Mickey thought of the techniques of Chanderpaul, Katich and Steve Smith?
Sri Lanka travel to Pakistan in December 2019 to play a two-Test series.
Fawad Alam is selected in the squad on the back of yet another massive First Class season, plenty of positive media attention and patience.
Fawad Alam doesn’t play a match.
I ask Fawad if Chief Selector and Coach Misbah-ul-Haq explained to him why he wasn’t selected to play.
“No. He didn’t tell me anything. There’s no explanation. I don’t know why.”
July 2020 — UK
The Pakistani squad land in England.
Amongst them is Fawad Alam.
He’s been selected and is expected to bat at number six because the incumbent Haris Sohail refused to travel because of Covid-19 concerns.
The last time Fawad played a Test match was in 2009.
He was 23 then. He is 34 now.
Who knows how he will perform this time? If gambling weren’t haraam, I’d bet my house that Fawad will be competing with Babar Azam and Shan Masood for the leading runs scorer of the series.
It’s an easy bet to make. Fawad Alam is a silky, monotonous run-making cyborg.
It is feasible that Fawad could be back in England six years from now. Being 40 years of age doesn’t mean anything to Pakistani cricketers.
Ask Misbah, Younis or Afridi.
Maybe Fawad will be doing push-ups at Lords. Shan Masood will lead a military salute in front of the whole team. Pakistan will be the world’s best Test team.
Remember, we are talking about Pakistani cricket here so it is clearly a credible scenario.
You thought Fawad Alam was finished as an international cricketer?
I’m telling you that he is just starting.
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