The genie in the genes
Genes, even impeccable ones, can be a cursed thing and Faisal Iqbal may know it better than most. Ever since he made his debut for Pakistan, ever since he even emerged onto domestic cricket's consciousness, people have included, in the same breath as him, his maternal uncle, Javed Miandad. His debut tour was the famously cantankerous one to New Zealand in 2000-01; Miandad was coach only to be removed immediately after it amidst stories of player indiscipline and an atmosphere of such fractiousness, that Moin Khan was relieved of his captaincy. Amidst the ruckus, an accomplished debut was almost forgotten.
Since then and until today, he has hovered on the fringes of the national squad. Five years, only ten Tests, one briefly glittering comeback is all he has had to show for it. His return to the side for this Test, three years after his last appearance, was less contentious and more stirring and he marked it with a punchy maiden Test hundred. You can argue that at 281 for 3, the situation when he walked in, little pressure was on, but with his background, it isn't a credible theory.
"The pressure was there as I was making a comeback and I hadn't scored in the first innings. I didn't look at anything else just at what I needed to do and how to score. I concentrated only on myself and every ball I was facing," he said later.
He concentrated enough to push the first ball he faced from Sourav Ganguly to square leg for two and then began his second comeback properly. The first boundary arrived in the next Ganguly over, the balance shifted to his front foot and the ball was driven through extra cover. Many of his subsequent shots came from a backfoot base; a push through covers off Anil Kumble, a hoick over midwicket from off stump. He tackled Kumble particularly well, slicing him through third man and then feigning a charge before leaning back to push square of cover.
Until tea and after Shahid Afridi's dismissal soon after the break, he was subdued though not perturbed. His fifty came off 116 balls, but he celebrated it buoyantly soon after, moving back, rising up and spanking Zaheer Khan on the up through cover again for four. It was dismissive and neither the delivery nor the bowler deserved it. In the last over of the day, he pulled Kumble to midwicket for his 12th boundary to bring up his hundred.
So assured was he in his innings over four hours, it could have been mistaken for cockiness, a trait that he has been accused of in the past, and if true, shares with his uncle. Possibly, his strokeplay holds a greater aesthetic appeal. "Javed Miandad is my uncle and has taught me through my childhood. I have learnt a lot from him. But I have only ever wanted to do one thing and that is to make a name for myself, to make a name for Faisal Iqbal."
Judgements shouldn't be rushed for he has had a false and spectacular dawn before. Against Australia in Colombo, October 2002, he made a silky 83 off only 85 balls when Pakistan were 75 for 4 against an attack some might call one of the greatest: Warne, McGrath, Gillespie and Lee. "Both times it was my comeback and that was a good innings as well. But this one was a comeback and it was also against India so I prefer this one I guess. While I was out of the squad my only aim was to get back into it. I wanted to be a part of this excellent team and I now want to play for as long as possible for Pakistan."
He came into the squad on the back of an impressive domestic season - this was his ninth century this season - and although he only played because of Inzamam's rickety back, he was pushing in any case. "My performance in the domestic season was good enough to be picked for the squad. Inzamam is a big player and a great batsman but my only aim was to get an opportunity and then make the most of it."
Rahul Dravid can't be too bad a judge of a batsman and after Iqbal had scored 87 against India in the pre-series warm-up match in Lahore, he was impressed enough to offer him some advice. "It's a really good feeling when a big player like Rahul Dravid praises you and gives you tips for the future. It really boosted my confidence."
Inzamam's back and age are both fighting the onset of time now. Hasan Raza and Asim Kamal are quietly receding from the limelight. As a litmus test for Pakistan's middle order post-Inzamam, a more appropriate situation couldn't be found here. Iqbal has now presented his case. And if he continues, we might not need to refer to you-know-who for much longer.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo