Faiz Fazal - fluid strokeplay, fluid future
On January 10, 2000, India played Pakistan in Brisbane, and lost a low-scoring thriller by two wickets. In their XI that day was a new wicketkeeper, Sameer Dighe. He was lbw to Shoaib Akhtar for 6, and caught Yousuf Youhana off Javagal Srinath's bowling. Dighe was 31 years and 94 days old. He was only the ninth thirty-something to make his ODI debut for India.
It took until June 15, 2016 for India to field their tenth thirty-something ODI debutant, Faiz Fazal.
Some teams have no hang-ups about picking late bloomers. In this millennium, nine players over 30 have made ODI debuts for Australia, five for England, nine for New Zealand, seven for Pakistan, five for South Africa, and four for West Indies. India tend not to give new caps to older players. At 30 years and 282 days, Fazal was a definite outlier when MS Dhoni handed him a blue one, numbered 214, on Wednesday morning.
It was an unlikely cap in more than one respect. Unlike the rest of India's squad, Fazal did not have an IPL contract. He hadn't played an IPL game in more than five years. He didn't have an un-ignorable domestic record either: a first-class average of 40.15, a List A average of 34.52 at a strike rate in the 60s - this in a land of tall batting feats.
Fazal's case for selection came from a run of consistent form in the 2015-16 season, with two memorable spikes that occurred in matches that mattered. In late January, a 100 off 112 balls for India A in the final of the 50-over Deodhar Trophy, against an India B attack containing Dhawal Kulkarni, Stuart Binny, Karn Sharma and Pawan Negi, all of whom have been in and around the national team. In early March, a fourth-innings 127, spread over seven hours, to anchor Rest of India's successful chase of 482 against Mumbai, the Ranji Trophy champions.
On May 23, the selectors named Fazal in the squad for the tour of Zimbabwe. It may have helped his case that he had made, on May 7 and 14, in the chilly climes of England's North-East, scores of 104 and 108 in successive games for Hetton Lyons.
India versus Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club was presumably a stiffer challenge - though perhaps not, given the home side's performances through the series. In the third ODI, they were a somnolent 80 for 2 in 27.2 overs when a powerful hit from Vusi Sibanda, off Barinder Sran, came hurtling to the left of Fazal at mid-on. His dive couldn't stop the boundary, but he got a finger to the ball, and a bruise to show for it. For a moment, spectators may have wondered if this blow would deny him a chance to bat on international debut.
But Fazal stayed on the field, and, after Zimbabwe slipped to 123 all out, walked out, padded up and helmeted, alongside KL Rahul.
India had seven overs to negotiate before the lunch break, and Fazal took a couple of overs to settle. He missed the first ball he faced, angled across him by Neville Madziva, his front leg just a touch slow getting forward. Then he looked to work the ball into the leg side, and closed his bat face a little early. The ball ran into the off side off his leading edge. The same thing happened in the fifth over, off Donald Tiripano.
In and around those nervy moments, he also tucked a single off his hips and clipped three off his stumps, both times off Tiripano. Like a lot of left-hand batsmen - with Graeme Smith at one end of the aesthetic spectrum, perhaps, and Usman Khawaja at the other - Fazal seemed to favour the leg side.
With eight balls remaining in that mini-session, Fazal got an off-stump half-volley from Madziva. He didn't really stride forward - he simply leaned over the ball and met it with the full face, and it thudded away to the left of mid-off. An excellent way to pick up your first international boundary.
The drives continued to flow when play resumed after the break; through cover point off Madziva, through extra cover off Tawanda Mupariwa, and then - after an interlude when Rahul overtook him with a series of boundaries - another down the ground, on the up, off Mupariwa. There was definitely more to Fazal's game than leg-side nudges and flicks.
The target was small, but there was just enough time for Fazal to demonstrate his footwork against spin - down the track to Graeme Cremer for a single to long-on, down the track once again for a straight, effortless, six, arms at full extension. There was enough time, too, to show he could put the short ball away - a hooked four, a controlled pull behind square to go from 49 to 50, and a fierce pull in front of square to bring up India's win.
Fazal had waited a long time, but he had made a definite impression when the chance finally came. Those who watched him will remember his upright, bat-up stance and his easy, fluid strokeplay. But for those who didn't, he might go down as the answer to a quiz question: Who made his ODI debut for India at 30, scored an unbeaten half-century, and never played again?
Cruel, a little premature, but a definite possibility. India next play ODIs some time in September or October, against New Zealand. When that series rolls around, they will most likely field a full-strength squad, very different to the group that is currently in Zimbabwe. Will it have room for Fazal?
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo