The Katlang tehsil of Mardan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan is fairly prosperous. It has all the basic facilities. The Friday fair in the tehsil is popular in the district. But after 18 June — a day that saw Pakistan defeat India in the final of the Champions Trophy, Katlang has become a mini tourist destination in the area.
Hundreds of locals from the nearby areas are turning up every day to catch a glimpse of the hero of the match Fakhar Zaman. The left-handed opening batsman virtually shut India out of the match with a well-paced century. Zaman rode his luck in the final after Jasprit Bumrah had him caught behind in the fourth over of Pakistan’s innings, but the umpire detected a no ball. And from that point on, Zaman didn't look back.
A former employee of the Pakistani Navy, Zaman says that his 114-run innings marked by 12 fours and three sixes from 106 balls has given him newfound confidence. He doesn’t think that it came against his team's arch rivals, instead, he believes that he scored his maiden ODI century against the strongest team in cricket at the moment.
In a telephonic interview from Mardan, Zaman confesses that since his match-winning knock, he has received a lot of calls from eminent personalities of Pakistan, including the prime minister. But, he adds that the advice he received from another legend of Mardan, Younis Khan, rings most clearly in his ears in the midst of all the noise.
Edit excerpts follows:
What does this innings against India in the Champions Trophy mean to you?
My confidence got a huge boost after that inning. There are two things I would like to share here to describe what this hundred means to me. First, there has been no good news for Pakistani cricket since so long. Second, I made hundred in the final against India, which is the best team in the world. Scoring against the best players in cricket is a totally different feeling. Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and so many others. It (the century) has pumped up my confidence and taken it to a different level.
Do you think scoring a big score in the final against India will help you mature as a batsman?
Of course, scoring against India is huge thing, but it will also put me under the scanner. So, from now on, I have to face a different kind of pressure and there will be lots of expectation from me. Clearly, if scoring a hundred against India makes you a star and you fail to repeat such a performance against any other team, it could be disastrous. I think I have to be ready to face that.
You were on three when Jasprit Bumrah had you caught behind, but it was a no ball. Where and when do think the Indians lost their plot against you after that?
I was very ill the night before the final. The team doctor was with me in my room for the duration of the night. If the Indian team had a normal plan against me — keep bowling on a good length and have two slips with the new ball, they could have got me out cheaply as my reflexes were slower because of my illness and the treatment. But they had different plans that restricted me and didn't really allow me to play any of my shots. There was a deep square leg and short mid-wicket when the new ball was in operation. They blocked me completely. So, I held back and decided to wait for the spinners. It turned out to be my day as I was dismissed, but it happened to be a no ball. Then I hit the Indian spinners around at will.
The Indian players were targetting you verbally as well. Do you remember anything that was said while you were batting?
There was a lot of chatter when Azhar Ali and I were at the crease. Virat was constantly saying, "Arre, ek wicket nikal jayega toh yeh saare out ho jaayenge. Bas ek ko nikaalo jaldi (If we get one wicket, the rest will collapse)." Bumrah had me caught behind, but it was off a no ball. So, he was also very vocal. On one occasion, he said, "Thoda saamne bhi run banaa le. Kab tak aise khelega?(Make some runs in front of the wicket. How long are you going to play like this?)" But to be honest, the Indian players didn’t cross any line. Actually, that was purely cricket-related and positive sledging, which is fine. Everyone wants to see his team win and they do their best to achieve that.
Your team were not in contention. Losing the first match against India was a bad beginning in a big tournament like the Champions Trophy. How did things change in the final?
Azhar and I decided that we would not give away our wickets early, whether or not we were scoring in the initial stages of the match. In earlier matches, I was stepping down and hitting the ball. But I decided to hold myself back. Before the match, we thought a total of around 250 would be competitive, but when we put together a 100-run opening partnership, a score of 300 became a realistic target. By the end of the innings, we had 338 runs on the scoreboard. To be honest, we had no meeting before the final as we knew that India was a tough team to beat. Ahead of earlier matches, there were meetings, but before final there was no meeting and everyone was very relaxed. However, after the toss the captain appealed to everyone to give 100 percent.
What advice did Younis Khan give you after Pakistan won the Champions Trophy?
I spoke to Younis bhai five day ago. We spoke for around 30 minutes. He told me how to handle this sudden change in my cricketing life. Actually, his advice to me was that this fame is nothing but an illusion, and it could lead me to disaster. I have to always keep my feet on the ground. He said everyone, including the media is praising me now, but the same people will criticise me in the future if I fail. I should be ready to face that too. So, I have to play even better to prove that my knock in the Champions Trophy was not a fluke. Every word Younis bhai said to me is still buzzing in my ears.
Who is Fakhar Zaman for the people of Pakistan now?
I am the same Fakhar Zaman, but people are treating me like a hero. I just came back from Karachi. I had to keep my homecoming a secret. But when I reached home, around 400 people — some of whom had travelled more than 200 kilometres — were waiting for me. My parents told me hundreds of people have been turning up to see me. Everyone wants to get a selfie with me and so far, hundreds of elders have kissed me on the cheeks (laughs), which is a little peculiar, but also something I had never imagined. The last two weeks have completely changed my life.