Thirteen months ago Mohammad Abbas went from 21st in the Test bowling rankings to 13th and then to third, in the space of two Tests. In the far more important chamber of validation that is Dale Steyn's twitter feed, he was there: "I see a new number one Test bowler coming… Mohammad Abbas."
He was breaking records wherever he went, taking wickets wherever he went, not giving away runs wherever he went; miraculously he was doing things like Mohammad Asif wherever he went while miraculously being nothing like Mohammad Asif wherever he went. Naturally, then, the mind couldn't help but drift towards the novel new way in which he would break and end up as another character in one of cricket's greatest, cruellest, and most enduring storylines: The Ballad of the Unfulfilled Pakistani Pace Genius.
A few ideas were thrown up here: "A doping ban. Mixing with the wrong guys. He could beat up on a team-mate. Get done for match-fixing. Probably spot-fixing. He could break a back. More to the point he could break his right wrist. He could look at somebody wrong. He could start getting picked for ODIs. He could be made captain. It could all go to his head. Test cricket could die before he really gets going. Duncan Fletcher could become coach and dump him because no pace. John Buchanan could become coach and teach him to bowl left-arm instead. Intikhab Alam could become coach. Ijaz Butt could return."
Not getting picked for a Test in Australia and it all going belly-up subsequently didn't jump out as an option at the time but who knew? And make no mistake, this may be the exact moment Pakistan broke Abbas. Too dramatic? At least hear this scenario out.
Pakistan lose badly at the Gabba. They react and recall Abbas for the day-night Test. Pakistan bat first, get rolled over and the bowlers are up against it already. Maybe Abbas doesn't bowl badly but doesn't run through them like people expect him to. His confidence is, understandably, fragile. He's thinking they dropped me 66 wickets and a sub-19 average 14 Tests into my career and picked a guy who hadn't played a Test for three years.
Pakistan lose again, another Australian clean sweep and now Sri Lanka at home. Pitches will be different and they need some fresh blood. Naseem Shah's pace is too exciting to ignore and being that a left-arm paceman is an immovable tenet of Pakistan's cricket and that they'll probably play two spinners, it means Abbas is no longer a shoo-in. He's nearing 30 and because of the long gaps in Pakistan's Test schedule and because he's not quick quick, he's vulnerable and easy to forget. Plus, in rushing him back for South Africa last year there's that right shoulder injury that's already been mismanaged - the PCB medical department's record in managing-ruining player careers is exemplary. He may already be forever changed.
So no, not so much drama, and even less if you consider the kind of judgements this new management team is making about him - as the rationale for dropping him at the Gabba. The line is that he didn't fit in what Misbah-ul-Haq and team felt was Pakistan's best bowling combination for this Test. He has lost pace and was unimpressive in nets, lacking in rhythm. Imran Khan looked better and so here we are. Oh, and Abbas is not injured, they're very clear about that.
Reflect on what that means. If he has lost pace - to a degree where they reckon he is unpickable even on a fast pitch - why bring him here in the first place? Presumably they saw him in the pre-series camp and kept tabs on him during his county season, so was this not clocked along the way? If, as one member of the backroom staff says, you need pace on Australian pitches, then why is Abbas here because he's never been about pace?
We're not even getting into the gaping hole in the centre of this argument. Pace in Australia? Vernon Philander, twice on the series-winning side, and absolutely central in the 2016-17 series, is cackling away. Jimmy Anderson, central to the 2010-11 triumph and leading England wicket-taker in 2017-18, is probably just sneering at the assertion. More contemporaneously, just across the Tasman and on the same day as Pakistan were not using Abbas, Tim Southee's 120-something clicks were scuttling England.
What you need in Australia is an attack with a varied set of skills. Pace, sure, which Naseem Shah clearly has. A different angle, which Shaheen Shah Afridi brings. And somebody who can get something out of a surface - anything, a little seam, cut - exactly the kind that Abbas has managed in the UAE, West Indies, Ireland and England. And if they wanted someone quicker than Abbas, is Imran - who began with a delivery at 127kmph and didn't venture over 135kmph - really that guy?
Selection is no exact science and is right only in hindsight. You allow for gut calls and instinct picks so give Misbah and Azhar Ali that much. They have enough experience to be entrusted with this.
Except when you have numbers like the following to consider, then? How was this even a choice?
Since Imran's previous Test - in January 2017 at the SCG - he has played 19 first-class games and taken 59 wickets at 29. Not standout but respectable. In that same period Abbas has played 45 first-class matches (including Tests), taken 203 wickets at an average of 19. He's taken 14 five-fors and three ten-wicket hauls. Those are numbers built around the world, and include, generally, a higher quality of victim.
So there's gut calls and there's what you see and it would seem as if they saw Imran take a five-for at Perth against Australia A and decided that was all they wanted to see - pink ball, day-night conditions and pitch be damned. These numbers be damned too, numbers which speak unequivocally of a pedigree. They speak of a quality that maybe, just maybe, speak over and above a poor net session or three. Abbas's figures this year aren't as spectacular but the gulf is still so vast that it's ridiculous we're treating this as a choice that had to be made.
And frankly, it was evident on day two. Imran has never been a bad bowler and he was harshly treated himself when first dropped - averaging under 27 from eight Tests and one poor Test later he was gone. He deserved a longer rope even if, ironically, it was his lack of pace that was his undoing.
But he's not Abbas. His first over made that very clear. Too many lengths, no set line and soon Australia off to a flyer, day decided. Also no surprise: in that same period Imran's economy rate is 3.37 and Abbas's is 2.50. Abbas may not have gotten wickets but bet the house that he wouldn't have leaked runs and any control would've been gold dust.
Imran ended up only bowling 12 overs on the day, an admission of this folly but a hollow one.