The curious tale of Fawad Alam’s Test career had yet another fascinating chapter added to it at Sabina Park as he notched his fifth century in the format.
With the century he became the fastest Pakistan batter to ever reach five Test hundreds in terms of innings played, reaching the landmark in his 22nd trip to the crease.
Conversely, among the five quickest for Pakistan within that statistic, none come close to taking as long in real-world time as Alam, whose first hundred came on debut in 2009.
That statistical anomaly almost encapsulates the left-hander’s Test career perfectly.
First picked to play in 2009, Alam seemed destined for greatness when he marked his Test debut with a second innings 168 off 259 balls against Sri Lanka at P Sara Oval in Colombo.
Instead, he found himself out of the side just two Tests later, dropped midway through Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand. In his four innings since the century, he had averaged 16.5, passing 20 just once but he could be forgiven if he had expected more patience so early in his career and having left such a strong impression in his first match.
He would wait 10 years and 259 days for his next Test, missing 88 matches for Pakistan in that time. Only six players have missed more Test matches between appearances.
In his time away from Test cricket, he did everything he could to force his way back into the team, helping himself to 26 first-class hundreds and nearly 8000 runs at an average of 56.48.
There were moments when the return seemed close enough to touch only for it to evaporate at his fingers tips. In 2015, he was selected for a tour of Sri Lanka but was unused. That same year he was selected for Pakistan’s three-Test series against England in the UAE.
"I am feeling like I got a debut call for Test cricket," he told ESPNcricinfo at the time.
"Five years is a huge gap as I last played a Test when I was like 24 or 25. So this all makes me feel like I am picked up for the very first time and I have to re-gather my thoughts and I am excited for the chance."
Alas, he once again was not turned to during the series.
In 2018, he made it to Pakistan’s 25-man training camp ahead of the tour of Ireland and England only to miss out on the 16-strong squad for the campaign.
Finally, in 2020, the long wait came to an end and as Alam walked out to bat at No.6 against England in Southampton. Unfortunately, cricket is a cruel partner in life and having waited more than a decade to mark his crease in a Test again, he was sent back to the pavilion just four balls later, dismissed for a duck. He finished that series with an average of 10.50 and it seemed the comeback stage of his career was going to be even shorter than the first burst in 2009.
However, this time around selectors kept the faith and with Babar Azam out injured, Alam got a second chance at a second chance. And he made it count, seeing out 269 deliveries to notch his first Test century in 4218 days. How fitting for it to come in the country where his Test career had come unstuck 10 years earlier.
"I've never blamed anyone," he said of his decade long absence, per ESPNcricinfo. "I have always been saying that fate had this for me. That if it was in my destiny, then nobody could have taken it away from me. I was only focusing on doing well in whatever opportunities I get to the fullest, even if it's domestic cricket.
"My two bad innings in England, I felt I could have been dropped for them but he (coach Misbah-ul-Haq) didn't lose his faith in me and kept on encouraging me," Fawad said. "He knew the potential in me and gave me another chance in New Zealand, so this specific support from the coach, lifts you up and then that is the confidence you take to the crease.”
That proved the start of greater things – the Fawad Alam we now know had arrived. Gone were the clean shave and tight trim of the young man who had wowed the world in Sri Lanka. In his place stood a grizzled first-class veteran with long locks and an impressive beard. He has not looked back since.
Two Tests on from his Mount Manganui century, Alam celebrated his first Test on home soil with a 245-ball 109 against South Africa. It was an innings produced when his side were firmly under pressure, with the southpaw coming in at 27/4 and dragging Pakistan to a total of 378 to set up a seven-wicket win.
The glut continued against Zimbabwe at Harare where he notched a 204-ball 140 before he raised his fifth Test century against West Indies this week.
Within the fifth hundred - scored in a fifth separate country against a fifth different opponent – was a reflection of Alam’s career.
Coming in with the team under pressure, he made a patient 76 before being forced to retire hurt, limping badly as energy-sapping conditions took their toll. He would return, however, coming back to score his century in the company of the tail, setting the match up for an entertaining final stage.
Closing in on his 36th birthday, Alam is nearing the final stage of his career as well. On current form, it should be both a lengthy and a prosperous phase.
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