He pulls Wagner’s short ball to the square leg boundary to reach his second Test century and immediately looks up heavenwards — whispers a prayer of thanks to the Almighty and takes off his helmet. Then Rizwan, his batting partner, hugs him.
It was one of the most emotional hugs seen on a cricket ground, perhaps, barring the Imran-Miandad hug at the MCG after winning the World Cup in 1992.
But the hug at the Bay Oval in New Zealand felt more personal. Rizwan physically expressed the elation at Fawad Alam’s individual milestone, yet, it had also touched tens of thousands of other hearts. Oceans away, in Pakistan, one could feel that emotional vibe in Mount Maunganui, through the TV screen. From Karachi to Khyber, everyone felt it. It was a moment for Pakistan cricket fans, sans any ethnic ‘Lahore v Karachi’ divide.
It was the happy ending to the story of a man who had struggled with but did not grumble at his non-selections, despite tirelessly piling up tons of runs in the domestic circuit for more than a decade. It was a special moment for the man who believes in dreams. If you look at Fawad Alam’s bio on Twitter, it says: “A cricketer who dreams to play for his country. A man who believes in dreams.”
“A person goes through a lot of difficulties,” he related after the match in his typically self-effacing way. “If you looked at the situation, the team needed a partnership. So I tried to apply myself and by Allah’s grace, I succeeded. We aimed to play the entire day and we were taking it session by session.
“We were talking about fighting it out and not accepting defeat. We were constantly telling ourselves that we have to keep at it and, till the time we are at the crease, we shouldn’t give up. The result is in the Almighty’s hands. All you can do is to try play for as much as you can.”
While celebrating his hundred on the field, Fawad Alam also did a little Maori Haka dance move. “During the four-day game (in Whangarei), Azhar Ali and I had a discussion. Azhar told me that if I get a century, this is how I should celebrate. Maybe the Almighty granted his wish, and I remembered what he had told me, so I celebrated the way I did for Azhar Ali,” he said.
After years in the wilderness, Fawad Alam finally got the chance to prove his mettle as a Test player on the international scene. And justified it. His success story may only just be beginning
But the road to the Haka dance was anything but smooth.
After his Test appearance in the Dunedin Test against New Zealand in 2009, Fawad was not selected until the Southampton Test against England in 2020, a full 11 years later. In between, many Pakistan teams were announced and embarked on Test tours without him. No matter how determined and resilient Fawad must have been, inside he must have felt his hopes and dreams being torn apart every time the Pakistan Test squads were announced. His hope, persistence, patience and hard work going unnoticed made his non-selections heart-wrenching.
“You learn every day when you play domestic cricket,” Fawad says during the post-match talk. “Even today, you end up learning something irrespective of your scoring 100 or 150 or 0. You should never give up on the ability to learn new things. I try to learn something every day. I try and move forward with everything that I have learned and apply myself to whatever I do. The result is in the Almighty’s hands. You just need to work hard and keep trying, which is in your hands.”
In 2018, Fawad was called up for the training camp in Lahore ahead of the UK tour. At the time, it raised the hopes of his cult followers; many thought that justice had been done and that, after many years in the Test wilderness, Fawad would finally get a ‘chance’, a chance to show his mettle and to prove Pakistan cricket fans right. But Fawad wasn’t included in the squad and, instead of embarking on the flight to English shores with the team, he had to fly back home to Karachi.
The unconfirmed reports suggested that the management was not happy with his ‘unorthodox’ batting stance and technique. Former England wicket-keeper and batsman Jack Russell, who also had an ‘unconventional’ batting stance, had said in his interview with Eos that, “Shivnarine Chanderpaul has done well with that stance, and he’s still going! The selectors should take note. They’re the ones with the problem. They should give reasons for not picking him.”
Fawad Alam’s non-selection was nothing short of an enigma. Former Test cricketer and current commentator Bazid Khan, speaking to this scribe in June 2020, had said: “It is amazing that he has been so consistent in first-class cricket, performing every single season and getting those runs that he does, knowing that he’s not being selected in all these years is a tribute to his stubbornness and actual will to keep performing. It shows a lot of character. I’m surprised that every regime, every selection panel, in the past eight years or so knows that Fawad has scored so many runs and they fail to bring him in the side.
“The selectors should look at him and say, yes, for the number of runs he’s scored, this guy deserves a chance and give him two or three series and make sure he gets the chance to prove that it is not just first-class cricket where he scores runs. I don’t know for how many seasons he can consistently score runs and not get selected,” he had added.
Misbah-ul-Haq got a lot of flak for not selecting him when he was the captain, but the fact remains that it was Misbah — the chief selector — who made Fawad Alam’s comeback possible before the England tour in July 2020. Azhar Ali, the captain on that tour, also deserves some credit for agreeing with the chief selector, because rumour had it that, in 2018, Inzamam tabled Fawad’s name but the then captain, Sarfaraz Ahmed, had opted for the newcomer Saad Ali instead.
No one understood Fawad’s plight better than Misbah. His own story was not too different from Fawad’s. He too scored heavily in numerous first-class seasons but was regularly overlooked for selections in the national squad. In 2010, after being ignored by the selection committee, he admitted that he had felt like burning his cricket kit.
Many believe that Fawad was deliberately given the opportunity against tough oppositions and conditions so he could fail at the international level. But as William Arthur Ward once wrote: “Adversity causes some men to break and others to break records.”
Fawad was destined to take the difficult path to success. He has not yet played a Test match in Pakistan, but the forthcoming home series against South Africa is just around the corner, and only Divine power can stop him from making his maiden Test appearance on home soil.
“You need to have a strong work ethic for whatever you plan and, at times, the Almighty will bless you as well,” says Fawad. “Even when I was playing domestic cricket, I used to always try and play every match as a new challenge and try to score runs in every match. So I thank the Almighty for all his help.” Only such faith can get you through.
Fawad’s story isn’t just restricted to cricket — people from every walk of life can relate to his story in some way. Yes, it is agonising but, in the end, it is also a tale of triumph. Fawad could do a TedTalk and move the audience to tears. His story of struggle has ended, but his success story may have just begun.
He has already won the PCB award — ‘Individual Performance of the Year’ — for his recent magnificent knock (102) in New Zealand. Perhaps, history is repeating itself. Perhaps, Fawad is the new ‘Misbah’ of Pakistan cricket. After all, there is light at the end of every tunnel.
The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 17th, 2021