After lengthy wait, Fawad grabs his chances
Fawad Alam has happened to this particular Pakistan team by accident, not by design. If Sharjeel Khan hadn't collided with Mohammad Hafeez against India and hadn't injured his knee in the process, Fawad would probably have still been carrying drinks. But a calculated 74 against Bangladesh, in his first ODI in more than three years, was followed by a resilient century in the final against Sri Lanka. The two innings were hardly about luck, made more of pluck.
Both against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he kept the score ticking over with little flashiness and once set, he showed off a vast repertoire of strokes. Fawad has almost every shot that is necessary to score big in ODIs. He also uses the depth of the crease remarkably well in the latter part of his innings, ensuring deliveries that are meant to be yorkers are turned into low full-tosses. Perhaps this is an old trick but Fawad has managed to make use of it very well.
There is definitely an air of unremarkable-ness about Fawad, as Osman Samiuddin wrote on ESPNcricinfo earlier this week, but when Fawad flicked a six off Thisara Perera and celebrated in the 48th over, he broke new ground. He is now the first Pakistani left-handed middle-order batsman to score an ODI hundred. One wonders whether he knew of the existence of such a stat.
A first look at Fawad indicates he is in great touch. His confidence is evident in the way he has adopted a Shivnarine Chanderpaul-like stance and how he gets off the mark. In both games, he waited for the right ball and found boundaries to get going. Against Sri Lanka, he took a bit of time before he drilled one through the covers and against Bangladesh, he was gifted a short one by Shafiul Islam.
He reached 50 off 57 balls in that game, and was played his part in the final push - punishing Abdur Razzak's fuller length with two crucial sixes in the 48th over, which was still required after Shahid Afridi's 25-ball mayhem. But against Sri Lanka, his approach to the innings had to be vastly different till he completed his fifty.
He made sure wickets wouldn't be given away easily as he took his time, scoring 18 off his first 50 balls. He was not taking chances until a sweep off Sachithra Senanayake landed just short of the long-leg fielder. In the next over, the 33rd of the innings, Kumar Sangakkara dropped a difficult chance off Suranga Lakmal. Fawad persevered and got to his fifty off 91 balls. By then, Pakistan had forgotten about 18 for 3.
Soon enough, despite losing Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad started biffing them straight or swiping at anything remotely loose. He was dropped on 92 by Chaturanga de Silva in the covers, and completed his century soon after, off 126 balls. His second fifty coming off just 35 balls, and with that Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief at finding a batsman capable of handling the difficult situations Misbah has been dealing with in the last several years.
He has played the background man very well, first to Ahmed Shehzad in the Bangladesh game and later to Misbah in the final. He works on the basis of a solid technique, very tight outside offstump at the start of the innings unlike many left-handers. He banks on the bowler's intention to come to him, and when they do, he capitalises.
Fawad will head back home in the safety of the knowledge that he has done enough to continue warranting a place in the Pakistan middle-order. The likes of Sohaib Maqsood and Shoaib Malik are in the World T20 side and while this could sway opinion about middle-order candidates, it would be hard to forget what Fawad did when Pakistan were 105-3 against Bangladesh and 18-3 against Sri Lanka.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here