Where to now for Fawad Ahmed?
Fawad Ahmed's bowling figures last weekend were very impressive. In a one-day match he claimed 3 for 9 in ten overs, with seven maidens. The batsmen simply couldn't get him away. Unfortunately for Fawad, those batsmen were playing for the Monash Tigers, and Fawad himself was bowling for Melbourne University rather than Victoria or Australia.
It has been quite a step down for Fawad, who spent the winter as part of Australia's Test squad in the West Indies and England but did not make his debut and struggled in the nets and the tour matches. He was left out of the squad for the Test series in Bangladesh, national selector Rod Marsh having declared that Fawad "didn't bowl as well as I'm sure he would have wanted" on the tours.
The cancellation of the Bangladesh series due to security concerns then created an influx of players back into state squads for the Matador Cup one-day tournament, and Fawad found himself shunted out of Victoria's 14-man group, with Glenn Maxwell and Jon Holland the preferred spin options. It means Fawad has gone from Test contender to park cricketer in the space of a few months.
Despite the demotion, Fawad remains confident that there will be a place for him in Victoria's Sheffield Shield side when the four-day competition begins later this month. He was the competition's leading wicket taker last summer with 48 victims at 24.85, and he believes previous experience of being dropped and coming back will help him bounce back after the disappointment of the winter tours.
"I've started well this season playing grade cricket, unfortunately not playing for Victoria, but I feel in good rhythm and looking forward to the big season," Fawad told ESPNcricinfo this week. "I've been through this situation in the past, been dropped and came back to club cricket and Futures League cricket and performed well there and made my way back into the side.
"I'm looking forward to the season. I've started the season well, playing for Melbourne University, and I'm playing Futures League next week against WA at the WACA. That will be a stepping stone for me to make sure I'm in a good rhythm and ready to play more cricket for Victoria, and hopefully repeat how I went in the last two or three seasons."
Fawad embarked on the dual tours thinking he had a strong chance of making his Test debut against West Indies in Dominica, where the wicket was expected to suit spin. However, the selectors left him out and his only first-class matches of the winter came in tour games against the WICB President's XI, Kent, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.
In those four outings Fawad sent down a total of 93.5 overs and collected nine wickets at 46.22; against Northamptonshire he was not introduced until the 42nd over, and his first ball was a full toss that was hit for six. Fawad said while he wanted to make no excuses for his disappointing results, he had found it challenging to have such long periods between matches.
"It's not easy when you're playing only four games in five months," he said. "When you're playing one game and you know you're not going to play the Test matches, the next game is one and a half months later ... it's not as easy as when you're going bang, bang, bang.
"In the Shield if I have an innings where I don't bowl well, after a couple of days there'll be another game. When you play more games you get into the rhythm. I did so much in the nets and there was a bit of concern but it was completely different conditions from home.
"It wasn't easy, and I don't want to use that as an excuse because I have to be able to adapt to conditions, that's what you need to do in Test cricket. It's not an excuse, but it was an up and down period. It wasn't meant to be, and now I'm here and I want to play more games for Victoria. I want to take more wickets and whatever happens in the future happens."
Fawad was the backup spinner to Nathan Lyon in the West Indies and England, but by the Bangladesh series he had been overtaken by Steve O'Keefe and possibly by Ashton Agar as well. However, he said having been part of previous Australian squads - he debuted in ODIs and T20 internationals in 2013 - he knew what he had to do to get back.
"Go back, work hard and perform well and make your way back," he said. "It's not rocket science ... It looks like it's going to be a hot summer, so I think that will be perfect for me. More dry wickets and the fast bowlers are going to be a little bit cooked, so I might bowl a little bit more. I'm feeling pretty fit and strong, I had a lot of training sessions and fitness sessions while I was away, so I'm feeling really good."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale