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The building of fortress Fawad

The Pakistan batsman was a treat to watch as he subdued South Africa's spinners

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Fawad Alam is nearly un-outable at his home ground in Karachi  •  AFP

Fawad Alam is nearly un-outable at his home ground in Karachi  •  AFP

If there's one thing we know about Fawad Alam, it's that he's patient.
This is a man who waited his whole career - 11 years but just eight Test matches with no proper explanation of why he did not play more - for an international at his home ground. So it's no surprise that he batted five hours and 53 minutes and faced 245 balls to put Pakistan in a position of strength against an opposition that seem unable to adapt to unfamiliar conditions.
While South Africa are struggling to wrap their heads around a surface that has settled even though it's stayed low and is not offering much for anyone, Fawad knows just how to play here. He has scored runs at National Stadium season after season, amounting to almost a fifth of all his first-class runs. He averages a shade under 70 (69.97) on this ground, and in his last six first-class matches here, he has scored seven hundreds including a double-hundred.
It's fortress Fawad in Karachi, where he built himself up to having the highest batting average in Pakistan's first-class history in 2013. He still holds that record, and only Steven Smith and Hanuma Vihari have better first-class averages, but Fawad undoubtedly has the most interesting stance.
At the crease, Fawad looks like it's the last place he wants to be even though his 100% conversion rate (three Test hundreds, zero fifties) suggests there's nowhere else he'd want to spend his time. He stands outside leg stump with his right leg lagging 30cm behind his left and then almost goose-steps his way across to around middle as the ball is leaving the bowler's hands. It's been described as crab-like, Chanderpaul-esque or just confusing and it definitely had that effect on South Africa, at first.
"It's not something you are used to because it's not conventional," Keshav Maharaj said. "It takes a few balls to adapt because you are constantly focusing on him but if you stick your lines and lengths because when the ball is about to be delivered he is still in a neutral position."
And that shifting of his feet is what allows Fawad to score heavily square of the wicket, areas which South Africa did not police enough as they set out to limit Pakistan in the same way they had been. But they faced a few hurdles in that regard, not least that 220 was a, "very very under-par score," as Dean Elgar put it and the pitch simply required some application; the kind of application Fawad showed.
It goes a little something like this. Firstly, don't rush, especially if the opposition does not have their most threatening spinner in the side. Secondly, be willing to wear a few, especially because the bounce is variable. Kagiso Rabada hit him on the glove last night and Lungi Ngidi struck him on the finger today, and even though it seemed he may need some medical attention at times, Fawad was not going to show it. And lastly, use your feet.
Fawad scored almost half of his runs - 53 - against Maharaj and George Linde, including five of his nine boundaries and both his sixes. While he was strong on the back foot to cut Maharaj, he regularly advanced on Linde. South Africa's spinners, both left-arm orthodox because the wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi suffered back spasms on the morning of the first day and had to be withdrawn at the last minute, did not find nearly as much turn as Pakistan did yesterday. "From the straight it didn't turn too much, not as much as one would have thought having seen Yasir Shah," Maharaj said. "But he is a wristspinner so he does get more revolutions on the ball."
South Africa's problems of personnel can't be helped, or solved immediately, but their slip-up in strategy deserves some scrutiny. They took the second new ball at the start of the 84th over, with Fawad on 87, and gave it Maharaj expecting a harder nut to bring more turn and bounce which is understandable. Eight overs later they gave that ball to Aiden Markram, to bowl part-time offspin. It cost them just 10 runs in three overs, but it spoke of a captain who was out of ideas.
By then, Fawad had waited long enough. He reached his hundred after spending an over on 94 defending an increasingly irritated Rabada, who had been hit by Faheem Ashraf for three fours before hitting him on the helmet before having him dropped by Quinton de Kock on what would have been his 200th wicket. The first chance Fawad got after that, he marched down the track to smash Maharaj over long-on for six, fist-pumped, prostrated and played to the gallery, except that there wasn't one. Where Fawad may have wanted to see his father, Tariq, the first-class cricketer to whom so many go to learn the art of playing spin, he saw just empty stands. But it was still a dream come true.
"This was the first Test at my home ground in Karachi so I just prayed to God for success. I couldn't have asked for more and feel extremely satisfied," Fawad said. "I feel out of this world."
The good news is that closed-door matches are (hopefully) not going to be around forever, and with international cricket flooding back in Pakistan, there may be another opportunity for him to acknowledge his loved-ones at his home ground but he will wait for it. And that might not be a problem for a player as patient as he is.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent