Have Pakistan found a solid opening pair in the limited-overs format at last?
Coordination, cooperation and understanding are some traits that are required to make a strong team. Covering up the weaknesses and the highlighting the strengths remains an area of hard work that very few have managed to excel in. However, the ones who have managed to do so have carved a niche as legends in the field. The likes of Sourav Ganguly-Sachin Tendulkar and Justin Langer-Matthew Hayden are not only known as great players but also the ones who can help the team succeed in tumultuous occasions.
A pair from Pakistan have stood out for this very reason in the last twelve months. Fakhar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq might have only represented Pakistan for a few games, but the intent and the skills that they have displayed has been phenomenal. The openers were aggressive in their approach and eager in their demeanour to lead the charge when their side needs them the most. Together they have opened the innings only on seven instances, but the seven innings have been enough to propel them as worthy match-winners.
It all started when a young Imam made his debut for the Pakistani side against Sri Lanka in October. Zaman, who had been coming off a brilliant hundred against India in the Champions Trophy was in fine form and pushing Imam up the order in place of Azhar Ali was a risk that the management were eager to take. Despite controversies about his selection, word had already spread that Imam was more than a shadow of his uncle and together with Zaman, who is fluent over the mid-on, the duo promised much.
The hype did not fall into oblivion. In seven innings that they have opened, Zaman and Imam have recorded three century-plus stands. The two have been partnerships of above 78 and only in two instances have they failed to get the ball rolling. While it can be argued that all the three hundred run partnerships have come against Zimbabwe, the velocity of the stroke-play and the determined intention is something that remains tough to ignore.
Durig the record-shattering knock of 304 in the fourth ODI, the two were as different as chalk and cheese in their approach, but a definite goal helped them overhaul all dissimilarities. While double centurion was the more attacking batsman, bludgeoning sixes through mid-on, Imam was a composed self-hitting only eight boundaries with no maximums in his knock of 113 in 122 deliveries. He waited for the deliveries and played most of the shots on the back-foot, which was in stark contrast to Zaman’s technique, where he looked to pierce all the boundaries around the park en route his 210.
The heaves to mid-wicket impressed and the swats through cover left one in awe at the sheer talent that he possesses. Even though the bowling unit was not as convincing, there can be no doubt that when the bat keeps sending the ball through the point on a consistent basis, something special is in store.
Even as his batting partner was on a rampage, Imam showed the maturity to keep the end up. Though hardly little could have been damaged if he had not been as cautious as the middle-order from Pakistan are equally dangerous, the mere fact that Imam overlooked the quality of the opposition and continued with his game reeks on how wise the player is.
He too could have felt the nerves kicking in, which could have prompted him to heave every delivery out, but by mixing caution with aggression, Imam displayed qualities that his uncle had been so famed for. At the other end, Zaman was reverse sweeping balls and slogging the spinners – but it all was marked with a touch of finesse rather than irresponsibility.
Zaman, who is the third most attacking ODI batsman from his country after Shahid Afridi and Imad Wasim is on the cusp of achieving greater heights, and he can rest be assured that his left-handed partner Imam will play a great role in it.