After waiting for over a decade and missing 88 Tests, Fawad Alam clawed his way back into Test cricket, completing a comeback for the ages. Two years since, his magical ride is staring at an abrupt ending. It deserves a better finish, writes Aadya Sharma.

There is no simple way to summarise Fawad Alam’s career. How can you, when someone has missed nearly five times the number of Test matches they have actually played? For a career that has gone through several twists and turns, the most recent one may well be the final bend. But it doesn’t deserve to be.

It will probably not hurt Fawad himself. Here is a man who seems to be at peace with himself and his journey. For many, ten seasons out of the side would have been harrowing. Not Fawad. He believes in the powers of destiny – if it is meant to be, it will be: “I don0’t think about the 10 years going to waste,” he had said in January 2021. “How can I say all the runs and records made in domestic cricket went in vain?”

Just over two years after a comeback like few others, Fawad’s story could be drawing to a close. He has been dropped from the upcoming Test series against England at home. “Obviously when your senior pro’s form is down and he [Fawad] isn’t scoring runs, we decided to give our new, young boys a chance,” said Mohammad Wasim, Pakistan’s chief selector, speaking on the squad selection.

It is a fair assessment. Fawad’s numbers have indeed tailed off this year. In six innings, he has scores of 0, 9, 13, 11, 24 and 1, the first four against Australia at home, the rest in Sri Lanka. That is a marked dip from his 2021 numbers, where he averaged 57.10 from 13 innings, collecting three hundreds and two fifties, and made it to ICC’s Test Team of the Year. The crabbed stance, the grandiose moustache and everything else Fawad was being celebrated with fervour. It could all be a thing of the past now.

Back in 2009, when a 24-year-old Fawad was first shown the door, it was largely because his batting technique was deemed too vulnerable to survive the perils of top-flight cricket. His technique got weirder over the years, but the runs did not dry up. He averaged over 50 in seven domestic seasons between 2011 and 2019, amassing 7,965 runs and 26 centuries during his time away.

There were several junctures over the course of the decade where Fawad’s exclusion couldn’t be justified. Here was a man scoring more heavily than anyone else in Pakistan, yet awaiting his chance. The first half of that wait was largely because the quartet of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq did not allow breathing space to any other middle-order player.

But Fawad had to wait even after the retirement of the first two. He kept scoring runs, all the while believing in “if it was in my destiny, then nobody could have taken it away from me.”

The toil of all those years probably does not get erased by a series and a half. He was 34 when Pakistan recalled him in 2019. Misbah, chief selector at that point, put the weightage of domestic performances over age or other criterion. The management had seen the merit of a solid middle-order batter in the lineup. Over the course of the next two years, Fawad proved just that.

It began with the glorious resistance in Mount Maunganui in December 2020, when Fawad batted four sessions against New Zealand’s world-class pace quartet to nearly pull off a draw. He battled 269 balls for his 102, his first century in 11 years. Over the course of the next year, he proved his worth again and again, scoring centuries in Karachi, Harare and Kingston. In Karachi, Pakistan were tottering at 27-4 when he walked in, enduring a six-hour marathon to help them reach 378. In Kingston, Pakistan had slipped to 2-3 before recovering enough to be able to declare on 302-9, thanks in part to Alam’s 124. Even against New Zealand, Pakistan had stumbled to 37-3 before Fawad came out as a saviour.

All these happened in the span of nine months. Since the start of 2015, only Shafiq has more Test centuries for Pakistan at Nos. 5 or 6 – but while Shafiq’s six hundreds have taken 54 innings, Fawad has four in 24. In a short span, Fawad became the middle-order bulwark most teams yearn for.

The dream run went through rugged terrain in 2022, when the runs dried up. It looked worse than it was, because some of his teammates found form at the same time. In 2021, he had scored three out of Pakistan’s seven Test hundreds. So far this year, Babar Azam, Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq have all hit two each, and Azhar and Mohammad Rizwan one each.

For the England Test matches, Pakistan have picked two relatively fresher middle-order options in Saud Shakeel (average of 68.54 in this year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy) and Salman Agha(55.16). Fawad himself has not fared too shabbily either, averaging 52.50 with a hundred and four fifties.

Which brings us back to the first discussion, about Fawad’s value to the side. Throughout history, there are myriad examples of batters recovering from six-innings-blips. Of course, he is 37 now, and is perhaps not part of Pakistan’s long-term plan, but he was not young when he was recalled in August 2020 either.

It is also important to note that the squad to face England contains two senior professionals as well: Azhar, who had a string of underwhelming scores on either side of his 185 in March, and Sarfaraz Ahmed, former captain and backup wicketkeeper, who last played a Test in January 2019.

The Shakeels and Salmans are the future of Pakistan cricket, but one also hopes that Fawad’s toil of several years is not forgotten by a minor glitch in the middle. It has been a fantastic journey. Even through the ten-year silence, Fawad insists he “never blamed anyone”. He probably deserves a better goodbye, another chance to wear that green lid on his head, twirl that majestic ’stache and face the bowler in that one-legged, celebrating the three-figure mark with that one-fisted jump.

Whenever Pakistan are three down for 30, hoping to muster a fight, the sight of Fawad – calmly standing upright in stance (albeit facing mid-wicket) – would be missed.