Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Colombo, 2nd day July 13, 2009

A tale of two prophecies

This was not a day to ask questions. This was a day to believe, like Fawad Alam did

It was a day to forget the shuffle. It was a day to forget technique, too, which was perhaps over-rated. It was a day to forget that Fawad Alam had never opened in first-class cricket before this. It was a day to go back to 10.29am yesterday.

With three Pakistan wickets down, a desperately hopeful Younis Khan scribbled on a tape-ball something to the effect of "Fawad Alam will get a hundred." Fawad soon got out, and Younis kept the ball away.

After yesterday's play ended, Fawad called up his father, Tariq Alam, the man who has taught many modern Karachi players how to play spin, but who himself could never win a Pakistan cap. Fawad was obviously disappointed, having scored just 16 on debut. Tariq told him, "So what if you have scored just 16? The next time you call me - just text me, I'll call you back - you would have got a hundred."

A great turnaround began this morning, after the ball got scratched on one side by an edge. Pakistan spotted it, shone the other side, got it to reverse, and ended Sri Lanka's innings with a deficit of just 150. Unfazed by his first-innings failure, Fawad came back and scored a century to make sure the good work didn't go waste this time. When he got to three figures with a delicate late-cut, Younis was batting at the other end. After he had done his sajda, Younis told him he had got something for him which he would show in the dressing room.

"I saw the ball and read bit by bit. Fawad Alam ... debut ... 100 ... signed by Younis bhai," said Fawad. "To know that the captain believed so much in me is an indescribable feeling." He put that ball in his bag and wouldn't let anybody take it away even for a second.

So much of this story is difficult to explain, yet so much is easy to understand. Despite a mountain of runs in domestic cricket, Fawad remained on the fringes of the Pakistan team, many times hearing the whole "You are a very good cricketer but we don't have place for you yet" spiel.

During the recent ICC World Twenty20 Fawad began by warming the bench; then he got a chance in four games but didn't once bat and only bowled one over, conceding 15, in Pakistan's semi-final victory. According to Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, Fawad didn't let any disappointment show. "He never loses his focus. He never shows frustration. He stays dedicated."

For the man himself, just being in the Pakistan squad was special. "When young I used to watch Younis bhai, Yousuf bhai, Shahid bhai play. They are such big players, it was enough to be with them."

Cut to Colombo, after a disastrous collapse in Galle. Salman Butt felt low on confidence before the start of the Test and therein, finally, came Fawad's opportunity. But it came with a risk: Fawad would have to open.

Others would have seen it as a gamble but not Fawad - nor, evidently, his seniors. "The coach and captain called me to their room on the eve of the match. They told me they were not playing a gambit here, they had faith in me. This is not a sacrifice. If a man dreams of doing something - and more than me it was my father's dream to see me wearing a Test cap - he should be prepared for everything."

Tapping the side of his head with his left index finger, he explained: "It's all here. If you are strong here, you can play anywhere."

If it was a gamble, Younis tried his best to leave as little as possible to chance. From the time Pakistan arrived in Colombo, he had told Fawad that he was going to open. During the nets he spent hours with Fawad, bowling at him with the new ball. "He told me from the off that if I opened the innings, I would make it to among the best. He gave his own example, how he had moved up from No. 7-8 to No. 3," said Fawad. "He told me he knew I would do well. When the captain is taking so much interest in you, you also feel you must have something."

It's a different story altogether but this shows in Younis definite shades of Imran Khan. Yet what remains unanswered is how Fawad managed to score a century despite such a pronounced shuffle that got him out on 16 yesterday. "If you want something so badly, you have worked towards it with complete honesty, you eventually get it," he said.

And how did he regroup after such a start to his career? Were there doubts about the risk he had taken? "I can't think negative. I don't have doubts."

But this was not a day to ask these questions. This was a day to believe, like Fawad did.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo