Pak v Eng, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi October 13, 2015

Malik's century marks extraordinary comeback

Shoaib Malik has fulfilled many roles for Pakistan but his unbeaten hundred after returning from a five-year Test absence was remarkable even by his standards

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'Tempo the stand-out feature of Shoaib's innings'

Shoaib Malik has been around for 16 years and has done just about every role possible for Pakistan except bowl fast - captain, spin-bowling allrounder, middle-order batsman and an opening batsman - without ever being able to sustain a long run. But even by his standards, this comeback story, at No. 3 having not played a Test in five years, is extraordinary as he revives a career which had almost faded to oblivion.

His hundred in Abu Dhabi, just the third of his 33-match career which began in 2001 - the other two came against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2006 and 2009 - certainly was not a soft innings. When he walked in, replacing the injured Azhar Ali at No. 3, the Test was three overs old and James Anderson was testing with the new ball.

He took just three balls to get off the mark, completed his fifty from 117 deliveries and then sped up towards three figures which required another 65. A noticable feature of this innings was his mixture of attack and defence: he soaked up 169 dot balls, but his overall strike-rate was 53.91 which is considerably higher than Azhar's career number. He helped keep the scoreboard ticking.

His Test career has never been convincing, a stop-start journey where he never had a defined role. He could easily have faded away - more than once he has been called a spent force - with the selectors having every reason to move on, yet his name kept floating around. If he can sustain this new beginning he could yet have a role to play for the future with a team close to entering a period of transition. Misbah-ul-Haq may not play beyond this series and although Younis Khan has said two more years, things can change quickly. Malik's experience could be useful.

As ever in Pakistan cricket, other factors have never been far away when Malik's position has been discussed, ranging from politics to a powerful PR machine, but this time Malik has certainly been called up when in prime form after a stellar limited-overs run.

Although, still, there was a sense of the dramatic as he was added to the squad as the 16th name ahead of specialist left-arm spinners Zafar Gohar and Mohammad Asghar who had been expected to play-off for the final spot for Pakistan A against England in Sharjah. At the start of play Misbah-ul-Haq wished he had one of those spinners; by the close he will have been very happy with his desire to have Malik in the squad.

From being on the wilderness, it may be that Malik could still have the most consistent years of his career ahead of him.

There was also some symmetry with the fact that the major partnership of the day came between Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. They made their Test debuts within two years of each other and are both similar players: they can bat in a variety of positions, bowl offspin and have both regularly been on their toes to cement their place. Sometimes at the expense of each other.

Hafeez suffered the most as he missed most of the matches in the early part of his career as Malik kept him at bay between 2003 and 2007. Last time both played together was in 2007 when Malik was the captain, but then Hafeez missed three years of international cricket before he was recalled into the side in 2010 when Misbah took over the captaincy post the spot-fixing debacle.

Around that time Malik's career started to fade away - his marriage to Indian tennis star Sania Mirza was sometimes used as a reason. In the meantime Hafeez had been Pakistan's first-choice opener and was about as close as it could be to becoming a regular in that position. He was dropped a couple of times but a lack of viable alternatives would see him return.

When Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were banned for spot-fixing it led to a period of transition. Malik had played in that 2010 series against England, his last Test being at Edgbaston, and a short while later Hafeez returned as an opening batsman.

In the last 12 years Malik and Hafeez had only played five Tests together. Malik's recall was also aided by the fact that Hafeez is currently unable to bowl his offspin due to an illegal action. Now, in Abu Dhabi, the pair were back in the middle together and, with some fortune on their side as England missed two vital chances, produced what could be a tone-setting stand for the series.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

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