–With Haris Sohail injured, there’s no reason to keep Fawad Alam out of the team
As they head to Cape Town for the second test on Thursday, it seems Pakistan isn’t going to call up a replacement for the injured Haris Sohail, who is now out of the South Africa tour with a bad knee.
Thankfully, Shaan Masood, the man who replaced Sohail in the Boxing Day test, seems to have found a rare semblance of form, being a small ray of hope in Pakistan’s pathetic batting efforts in the first test.
In the short time that the team had to find a replacement, it made sense that Shaan Masood was sent in to bat at number three. He was supposed to be a backup opener, but number three is a position openers can play comfortably at, and Fakhar Zaman helped make him feel more at home by getting out within the first 10 overs in both innings.
That said, it could be questioned why Pakistan still insists on playing Shaan Masood as the replacement for Haris Sohail instead of beefing up a faltering middle order. Playing the longest form of the game is an undue temperamental pressure on the hard-hitting Fakhar Zaman. Shaan Masood and Imam ul Haq, an untested opening pair, have proven that they have good chemistry together. It would be interesting to see two lefties opening the innings for Pakistan, and Fakhar Zaman would also be out of the whites he looks so uncomfortable in. But with consistent performer Haris out to his consistently bad knee, there would need to be someone injected into the middle order.
Enter Fawad Alam, the balm to Pakistan’s batting miseries. Being another left-hander to replace the left-handed Sohail, he has been Pakistan’s top domestic performer as his fans never fail to remind everyone of. His shift batting style depends on grit and scavenging. He is not a natural stroke maker, but he is scrappy and determined and will bring stability to a faltering batting side. With Azhar Ali once again facing a slump after his short revival in New Zealand, and Asad Shafiq consistently failing, Fawad Alam might just be the featherweight brawler Babar Azam needs at his side to maintain the calm that he seems to require to perform.
A consistent argument has been that as good as his numbers, there just isn’t room in the team for Fawad Alam. One wonders if it’s actually that, or just that he isn’t quite as pretty as other batsmen. Thoroughly devoid of natural talent with an ugly sort of batting technique, Fawad Alam really isn’t the sort of player that ticks. He shifts balance badly and scrunches his face up unpleasantly when exerting force. Unattractive stroke play combined with a small stature and an inability to hit anything big makes him a shocking crowd favourite.
Yet with a first-class average of 55.37, and List-A average of 49, nobody can deny he is Pakistan’s most prolific domestic cricketer. But maybe he just isn’t cut out of the mould that is required for the international format? Of course, his international numbers also indicate that he is a correct fit for the squad. He has an average of over 40 in tests, admittedly due to a single inning of 168 on debut, but he has only played three tests, and those too way back in 2009, long before he matured into the sensible player he has now become.
Back in 2015, he showed his steel in a tour game against England XI, and his ODI figures fare even better. With an average of 40.25, players with numbers much worse than him are mainstays in the Pakistan set-up. Admittedly, his strike rate is on the lower side at 74, but that’s a non-factor in test cricket, and it is the longer format in which Pakistan is struggling.
Fawad Alam is 33 years old. Not everyone can be a Misbah, and he has another four years of cricket in him at best. With room in the squad, there’s no reason not to call him up. If only on the principle of calling in such a prolific performer on the domestic stage. But also because he might just be what Pakistan needs.