It’s almost like a fairytale for the 27-year old southpaw, who made a name for himself at one of the grandest stages of cricket. Prior to the tournament, Pakistan had a number of issues to be addressed, their inconsistent bowling, lack of firepower in the middle-order and more importantly their top-order. They experimented a lot at the top but were without any fruitful and consistent results. After a hiccup in the start, Pakistan bounced back hard and made a solid comeback in the tournament to leave the cricket fraternity stunned.
Their fans almost lost faith in the unpredictable Pakistani side but they stepped up at a crucial time and gave them loads of memories to cherish. Pakistan beat India in the epic final at The Oval and claimed the ICC Champions Trophy for the first time in their cricketing chronicle. They improved their game in all three departments and did reasonably well to emerge victorious. Pakistan took few bold decisions and trusted the young guns, which helped them reap fruitful results.
After a torrid time in their first game against India, Pakistan gave Fakhar Zaman an opportunity to showcase his talent on the big stage at the expense of Ahmed Shehzad. The aggressive southpaw made way into the side on the basis of some prolific outings in the domestic circuit. Pakistan have never been short of talents and Zaman was a testament to it. Not many have heard of him before his debut and was certainly a surprise package. He did well against South Africa, an innings of sheer belligerence and attack. And then replicated his magical performance against Sri Lanka with a brisk half-century.
Zaman continued his good form and garnered another quick fifty against England in the semi-final. With his success at the top and Azhar Ali being the silent assassin at the other end, Pakistan’s opening pair woes were solved. Now came the big game against India, which had a lot of pressure to deal with. Zaman didn’t have a lot to lose in his first few outings as he was a surprise package but now there were expectations from him. His prolific run in three games, where he garnered 138 runs at a blistering strike rate of 118, raised the standard and Pakistan were now looking at a good start from him.
Zaman responded to the team’s call and rose to the occasion. Luck favoured him when Jasprit Bumrah induced an outside edge early on in the innings but had his foot over the line. And Zaman was astute enough to pounce upon the opportunity provided and make the most of it. Zaman had played the likes of Lasith Malinga, Mark Wood and Jake Ball well in the past and now had a litmus test against the formidable Indian bowlers. He not only passed the test but did it with flying colours. He bid his time against the on-song seamers but dominated the spinners, who have had a terrific home season, and played with unmatched confidence. He picked his bowlers and scored heavily against them.
It’s not very often when Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran hunt in a pair and not bag any wicket, in fact, this sight is rare. Zaman dominated the two world-class spinners on this day and plundered 78 (from 56 deliveries) runs against them. Zaman faced 23 deliveries from Jadeja and scored 33 out of it while he had 45 runs from 33 deliveries off Ashwin. He was quick on his feet and didn’t shy away from going down the track. He absorbed the big match pressure and steered Pakistan to a dominating position with a tenacious ton.
The most amazing moment from Zaman’s innings came in the 27th over. Zaman had already smashed couple of boundaries and a six to Jadeja in the previous over and Ashwin was putting in the hard yards for the 27th over. Ashwin was under pressure. After a single on the first ball, Ashwin bowled two consecutive wides to Zaman. The southpaw shimmied down the track on the next delivery, Ashwin brought his plethora of experience into play and took the pace off the ball and pitched it wide. Zaman went with the shot, got some bat on it and smashed it straight down the ground for a maximum. He was in no position to play that kind of a stroke but cleared the ground with ease. Such was the kind of power, Zaman put into that shot.
Zaman plundered 114 from 106 deliveries in an ICC tournament final, which is always exceptional. One of the major highlights of Zaman’s stint so far has been his rise with every outing. He has just looked good at the crease and seems to be evolving with every game. His four international innings so far read – 31, 50, 57, 114. He keeps getting better which is a good sign for Zaman and Pakistan cricket. Had Ahmed Shehzad got runs in the opening game, in all likeliness Zaman would have been on the bench. But the southpaw has grabbed the golden opportunity with both the hands and made it count. Zaman played four games so far for Pakistan in the ODIs, and all of them were knock-outs. But he didn’t let the pressure get the better of him.
The calmness of Azhar Ali and belligerence of Fakhar Zaman have worked well for Pakistan at the top. Pakistan are unstoppable at the moment under the leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed. They have gelled as a unit and the results are there for everyone to be seen. Zaman has won thousands of hearts with his style of play and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the time to come. With the 2019 World Cup approaching, Zaman’s success and consistency are what Pakistan will be hoping in the games to come.