Wait 10 years, 259 days. Play 12,742 balls of first-class cricket. Average 56 in that time. All for this punchline: in the time it took you to read those sentences but not fully digest those numbers, it's already over. Four balls, one contact between bat and ball, zero runs. Life is cruel and still it has nothing on the cruelty of batting. Who better to know this than Fawad Alam?
For it to be on referral too, because there's nothing quite like the DRS to prolong and accentuate the torture of batting. What else but something as unforgiving as batting could, after all, accommodate a state in between life and death? Exhale out relief on being given not out. Inhale in nerves upon referral. No chance to exhale. It's over. He wasn't even there long enough for Sky Sports to do the inevitable Third Man ostensibly on his stance but really as an excuse to watch some classic Shivnarine Chanderpaul footage.
That stance itself feels like a cruel twist now. If you put it against the stance from his earliest days, it could be two different batsmen. He used to have a little shuffle across but remained more or less side on before, still unexplained, the guard became this open invitation for a brawl. Even then it was fine hidden away in deepest, darkest domestic cricket, sighted occasionally on Quaid-e-Azam trophy streams. Now it's out there for eternity and no matter what runs he scores in the second innings, or however many more Test innings he plays, it consigns him forever to pop up in a listicle on weird stances (we'll do one most probably).
That will accompany the other listicles he's destined to appear in, on long-suffering domestic toilers (done that already) or on records pages for the longest gaps between appearances (ditto). A career of 17 years and counting, reduced to three lists. And the memes won't stop for a while yet. Cruel doesn't begin to describe it.
He was on a hiding to nothing coming in at the fall of Asad Shafiq's wicket and in contributing zero to a partnership of three with Babar Azam. The latter is a generational talent, the former the guy who really could've been, both of whom the manner in which they score compensates to some degree for the number of runs they score. Pure, pristine techniques, every shot a picture. And here is Alam. The minute he arrived, cricket orthodoxy blew up: how can he play at this level with a stance like that? The minute he left, it continued blowing up: see, he can't play at this level taking guard like that.
All those years, his best years, that he couldn't get in because there was nowhere to get in to with Pakistan's middle order. Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shafiq had the absolute run of those surfaces in the UAE. All those years of bounty, eventually the return of Tests to Pakistan and he gets a call-up in England.
And after his captain chooses to bat first, the weather conspires against that decision. This Test has been preceded by days of unbearable heat and unflinching sunshine only to welcome Alam back with muggy, overcast skies, heavier with the threat of rain than actual rain. A day on which 126 for 5 is about par for most sides, let alone Pakistan, and every run seems to have been edged to third man. Against an English attack currently so deep they're literally drawing straws to see who sits out a Test. No Jofra today, no matter, here's a leftie who looks seven but swings it mean like the expression on his face when he runs in.
Sam Curran might've actually been relief but Alam started against Stuart Broad whose stock ball these days is simply the one that gets the left-hander - any left-hander - out. There's cockfights in this world that are not as cruel as this.
After missing 88(!) Test matches, Fawad Alam is a part of Pakistan's Test XI again— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) August 13, 2020
Three balls from Broad, the best result of which for Alam is a toss-up between all three: the nervy jab at the first, the leave-alone of the second, or being beaten square by the third. Alam's fourth ball is from Chris Woakes who, for this fleeting moment in our existence post Old Trafford, is the best allrounder in England and given that the actual best allrounder in England is the best allrounder in the world, means he's not to be trifled with.
It's the last ball Alam plays and even physics is not his friend. It's slanting across him as it lands, and even though it straightens marginally to beat his inside edge, it's this close to being umpire's call on where it pitched and that close to being umpire's call on where it hit the stumps. Nearly 11 years and undone not just by a computer but by millimetres.
As parting insult, as he's struck, he looks like a combination of a batsman winded by a hit on the box and bowled by a grubber. A bad day to be Fawad Alam, a great day to be a meme.