ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Fakhar Zaman's rise as aggressive opener down to consistent PSL showings
The 27-year-old Fakhar Zaman played an innings par excellence at The Oval in the Champions Trophy final.
"I came, I saw, I conquered" is an old quote attributed to Julius Caesar, but it may just as well have been applied to the 27-year-old Fakhar Zaman for an innings par excellence which he played at The Oval in the Champions Trophy final.
Of course, Fakhar’s innings of 114 in the final, which set the stage for an incredible 180-run victory for Pakistan, was not a flash in the pan by any stretch. The signs were there from the day he was preferred to open for the team in the crucial game against South Africa, instead of a woefully out-of-touch Ahmed Shehzad.
A relatively unknown commodity outside Pakistan, Fakhar Zaman showed incredible courage and aggression as he took on South Africa’s top-rated bowlers to score 31 runs in his ODI debut. While many remained unconvinced about his suitability for top-level cricket, there was a aggression and energy in his approach to batting that seemed the perfect match for Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur’s drive to embrace the modern-day game.
If there were any doubts about his importance to a Pakistan top order where not losing a wicket after the first few overs was considered a minor achievement, they were quickly dispelled as Fakhar rose to the occasion and put on a 50 in no time against a bewildered Sri Lankan bowling attack.
More surprises were to come in the game against one of the tournament favourites, England, where against one of the top bowling attacks, Fakhar’s improved his score to 57. All his innings in the Champions Trophy up to that point were pointing to a future of great promise. Pakistan now had an opener who could take the attack to the opposition from ball one, and in the process also provide the kind of space to his fellow batsmen to settle in. Azhar Ali as well as Babar Azam were great beneficiaries of Fakhar’s presence and the overall calming influence on the frail Pakistan batting order was having its desired effect.
India’s domination on Pakistan in ICC tournaments was well known before the start of the Champions Trophy and any lingering doubts on this seem to be cleared when Pakistan were smashed to a 124-run defeat (DLS Method) in the opening match. While Pakistan seemed to be riding on the wave of a new-found confidence ahead of their second and final meeting with their arch-rival, to many experts an Indian victory was a mere formality.
What transpired in the final, where Pakistan demolished their arch-nemesis by a 180-run margin, seemed to be an exact opposite of what had been expected. Fakhar had been predicted as one of the players who could have turned the tide in favour of Pakistan and the man from Mardan did not disappoint.
In an innings which left the audience breathless in terms of its audacity and sheer fearless approach, Fakhar Zaman, playing only his fourth ODI match, became the only Pakistan player to score a hundred in the final of an ICC tournament. In the process of scoring 114 runs, he also demolished any chances of an Indian attempt to restrict Pakistan to a low score which they could chase down with ease.
Fakhar’s style of play, which the Indian captain Virat Kohli uncharitably described as consisting of “80 percent of high-risk shots”, may not have appealed to all but the fact remains that his innings of 114 sealed the deal when it came to the bottom-line. The Fakhar method may not have been everyone’s cup of tea but to those who had followed his career, he was always one who wanted to put ball to bat with maximum effect. Fortunately for Pakistan, his aggressive "high-risk" style of play was exactly what the team needed and the effects of that approach were put to devastating use during the Champions Trophy.
Anyone watching Fakhar adjust to life in international cricket would be surprised to know that his journey to top-level cricket was not an easy one. Born in Mardan, a city which also boasts another prodigal son in the shape of Pakistan’s record-scoring Test batsman Younis Khan, Fakhar joined the Pakistan Navy to serve his nation. However, realising that his love for the game needed more time and commitment, he left the Navy to play professional cricket. His domestic performances in the Pakistan One-Day Cups of 2016 and 2017 were exceptional where he was the second and fourth highest run-scorer respectively. Like many promising Pakistani talents, Fakhar may well have been serving time at the domestic level with scant chance of making it to the top, had it not been for his involvement in the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
As part of the Lahore Qalandars squad, Fakhar played eight games in the 2017 edition of the PSL where his technique was greatly admired by his skipper Brendon McCullum, who marked him as someone to watch out for. In that sense, Fakhar’s achievement to become the top scoring Pakistan batsman at the Champions Trophy should not really have been a surprise at all.
Pakistan’s triumph in the Champions Trophy is their first major ICC tournament since 2009. This feat has been achieved with the help of some fantastic performances by their younger players and there is a real hope that this victory represents a major turning point for a team which has been struggling to stay viable in the limited-overs format. As players such as Fakhar continue to mature as they are given more chances to represent Pakistan, there is a good chance that the success witnessed at Champions Trophy will be repeated many times over in the coming years.
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