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Pakistan: The winter of comebacks

Pakistan's Fawad Alam
Pakistan's Fawad Alam
©Reuters
 

There is no denying that a great comeback story never ceases to impress. It motivates those witnessing it, that they’ll somehow pull through, no matter how tough the contest; that coming out of that dull, ominous period would be a stronger, self-confident version of their former selves.

The world of sports thrives on such comebacks; it is the very element that gels different sporting fields together. As fans we always hope our favourite player even at his/her coherent worst, visibly battered with little chance of improvement will bounce back; perhaps revolutionize with a miraculous redemption.

Cricketers are no exception. Often, a point arrives where their performances slump and their brilliance withers. Even the best batsmen and bowlers undergo these “rough seas” and periods of humiliating inefficiency. But amongst these are a few greats who refuse to give up. They nullify their dismal past through their consistency and resilience.

The recent clash between Pakistan and South Africa 2020-21 is one for the history books. An absolute team revival. While the ‘Men in Green’ pulled off a first test series victory against the Proteas since 2003, a few “Shaheens” with their passionate and powerful display of persistence made a striking return to international cricket; with a Bang!

 

  1. 1.    The Generator’s roar

In all fairness, Hasan Ali’s story is amongst the most inspiring fast-bowling rebounds of the past decade. Last two years have been a strenuous test of his grit and patience to say the least. Hasan Ali conceding 84 runs in a World Cup fixture against India in what would be his final performance for the ICC event marked the beginning of a miserable patch of white-ball cricket for him where he managed to bag a mere 7 scalps in 11 ODI’s for the entire calendar year.

A minor back injury sustained just a month later soon turned into a year-long absence for him from the international circuit. A plethora of physical trauma, ranging from multiple rib fractures to a brutal stress fracture barred him from returning to the side with many critics and experts including himself writing him off for good, To top it all off, not being able to make it to PCB’s central contract list and being sent to rehabilitation facility was a nightmare, one he never expected to be in.

The exuberance and vim that was brought to the 2017 Champions Trophy, accompanied by his early white-ball excellence, seemed to have faded away; what remained was a remnant of some euphoric dream. Yet 2021 brought with it a fresh start for Hasan Ali. His maiden ten wicket haul at Rawalpindi not only made him the 8th Pakistani to achieve the feat but also led his country to a series win against South Africa in 17 years. It won him many laurels including the “Man of the Match” award and praise from the bowling coach Waqar Younis himself. His teammate Shadab Khan took to twitter soon after the match to acknowledge the Generator’s “electrical” performance.

While Hasan Ali’s return became a strike of misfortune for South Africa it continued to be a good omen for Pakistan. Following the tests, the T20 series, tied at 1-1, was going very much in the visitor’s favour in the third and final game until a late cameo of 20 runs off 7 deliveries including a match winning six by Hasan prevented the tourists from ending their trip on a high.

  1. 2.    Fawad’s Vindication

If there is ever a fine example of the old adage, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time’, it is Fawad Alam’s career.  Nothing has stood a tougher test of time in modern day cricket than his perseverance.  

It was in the summer of 2009 when Fawad Alam’s 168 on his test debut put him in an elite group who managed a 100 or 150 plus on their first international outing. At just 24, he bore much potential. Could he have been the next Brian Lara is anyone’s guess now, as a subpar performance only a few months later against New Zealand had him ousted from the test side. It was clear at the time he would return and he did but it wasn’t until 2020.

The unorthodox batsmen got selected to play in England amidst a global pandemic in a hauntingly empty stadium. His decade long hiatus from the longest version of the game has had many heads thinking but none has been able to come up with a valid excuse for his non-inclusion. He was to be the “Sachin” of Pakistan and indeed he is but only for the domestic circuit where during his 10 year long wait he scored 26 centuries at an outstanding average of 56.48 runs a game.

When he was dropped, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson had only begun their careers, Instagram was non-existent and just two T20 World Cups had been played. While Fawad waited, Kohli amassed 71 centuries, Williamson became New Zealand’s captain and Pakistan went through 15 different test opening pairs. He missed 88 possible test matches which saw 40 odd test caps being handed out.

Despite the figures he racked and the records he smashed, he was always turned a blind-eye to. It was callous and cruel but he persevered with his bat. Could Fawad have made it to the “Test XI” of the previous decade? Could he be one of the “Fab Four”? Could he be amongst the likes of Steve Smith, Virat and Sir Alastair Cook? I, for one very much think so.

Despite the odds and so much more, Fawad Alam now at 35 has a place in the red-ball format once again. In a space of four test matches, he has managed two centuries. At Christchurch, Fawad’s resilience and mettle against the Kiwi bowling line up, in windy conditions, were a treat very much worth the wait and the icing was him reaching his 100; the apogee moment for the series. He brought up another menacing century on his own turf later in the year against South Africa, a turning point in Pakistan’s triumph in the 1st test.

While his zeal and recent accomplishments have earned him great recognition and support, his story has touched the hearts of all those with a love for the gentlemen’s game. He has rejuvenated a raw Pakistani batting line-up, providing a strong backbone with his years spent in the domestic wilderness. Fawad today enjoys the respect and admiration he truly deserves and should have had much earlier. His vindication is complete.

Hence, the winter of the cricketing calendar 2020-21 has been an enchanting one for Pakistani. Whilst Fawad and Hasan have validated their worth and dexterity, one more name worth mentioning is Mohammad Rizwan. He put up an impressive display against the Proteas, scoring his maiden centuries and bagging “Man of the Series” in T20 and Test series both. With more and more sides agreeing to come and play in their backyard, Pakistan Cricket in general is finally undergoing a period of much needed revival.

“Men in Green” have and seem to be on their way for many more Comebacks!

 

This article is written by Fasih Taqvi, currently an O-levels student at Froebel’s International School, Islamabad, Pakistan.