Is Shoaib Malik a cat with nine lives? Is he the phoenix who rose from the ashes? Or, less kindly, is he the dog with a bone, unwilling to let go? Is he a legend, the only active international player from the previous century, a captain who led his side to within one shot of a World T20I title?
What's of little doubt is that Malik's career is unique, arguably in the history of international cricket. There can't be another player to have carried on as long as he has while fans, former players and journalists bicker away in the background about whether he's good enough, or indeed if he's ever been good enough. His start against Bangladesh today means he joins a club of just seven men to have played across four decades; he began his career in 1999. In the last 40 years, nobody but Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuria have managed that.
He has been discarded and called back so many times it's easy to lose count. In fact, we did lose count. So we looked it up. Here lies the definitive list of all the times he has been dropped, and how he's responded to each rejection. Definitive up till now, of course. Can anyone be sure this list won't need updating?
Singer Triangular series, 2000
The first time Malik got the Pakistan treatment. A young batting allrounder sent in at number nine, just above Arshad Khan, getting to bat just once and getting the boot. The offspin bowling didn't set the tournament on fire, and with just two wickets and 28 runs to his name, Malik began a spell out of the team that lasted until another tri-series, in Sharjah against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
ICC Champions Trophy 2002
By now, Malik was suddenly batting at number three; he arguably never nailed down a position in his entire career. He managed just one run in the game against Sri Lanka, and didn't get to bat against Netherlands, when Shahid Afridi was sent in at number three instead. The bowling returns, again, were modest, just one wicket in 13 overs across two matches. He would continue to be overlooked until beyond the 2003 World Cup.
Left out of the 2010 World T20...
Lots had happened by then, and Malik, still a young man, had been jaded by the circumstances in which the captaincy had been handed to him, in 2007, and the circumstances surrounding his sacking 18 months later, when the team management declared he had been a "loner", and "aloof". His bowling wasn't as much a factor as it used to be in his early days, and after scoring 49 runs in three T20Is against England and Australia at the end of a prolonged slump with the bat, Malik was dropped from Pakistan's defence of the World T20 in the West Indies.
... and the 2011 World Cup
The first time Malik's career seriously began to go haywire. Following the World T20 snub, he was called back for the Asia Cup in 2010, and then went on to play in Pakistan's "home" games against Australia in England, in all formats. Then, after the first two Tests against England, he was dropped once more, and spent 13 months out of the side, missing, among other things, the 2011 World Cup. It remains Malik's longest spell out of the Pakistan side.
Zimbabwe comeback, part 1
Malik's Test career was effectively done by now; he would only play three more, in 2015. In September 2011, he was called up for the limited-overs series against Zimbabwe; he only scored 34 runs in four innings. In 23 innings after his recall, he averaged 12.73, and crossed 30 just once. In the middle of that run, he was dropped for the ODIs against Australia in 2012, only playing the T20Is. He kept his place for the 2012 World T20 in Sri Lanka, however, but managed only a highest score of 28 in five innings, and a strike rate of 90.76.
Champions Trophy 2013
It would be hard to blame Malik alone for Pakistan's abomination of a campaign, but after being humbled in all three group games, they were out in full force looking for scapegoats. Malik, who had managed just 25 runs in 3 games, was a useful one, and he was out on his ear once more.
World T20, 2014
Malik would return for two T20Is against South Africa in November 2013, only to be dropped again. He marked his return at the World T20 in 2014, and 52 runs in four innings at a strike rate of exactly 100 saw him lose his place once more. He wouldn't be back for another year, and missed yet another World Cup campaign.
Zimbabwe comeback, part 2
Another 13-month spell out of the side, another comeback against Zimbabwe. This one came in Lahore, and while he managed just 14 runs in the two T20Is, he roared back to form with 112 in the first ODI, the first time he had reached three figures in any format since July 2009. The next two-and-a-half years were arguably the most consistent of his career; he was regularly among Pakistan's top-scorers in white-ball cricket, smashed 245 against England in a farewell Test series, and averaged 51.52 across formats in 74 innings until the end of 2017. He was more or less a fixture in the side until the 2019 World Cup.
2019 World Cup, the end?
Nope. His form had been dipping, seemingly terminally, for over a year, and after three games at the World Cup in which he scored 8, 0 and 0, he was dropped. Many believed he had played his last international match, more still argued that it should be so. But with new chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq at the helm, Malik has been recalled for the home series against Bangladesh. It will be the 21st successive year in which he has played at least one international match. Who says the streak stops here?