Fakhar Zaman was challenged by head coach Mickey Arthur to notch up a double-century when skipper Sarfraz Ahmed won the toss and elected to bat first. And that was exactly what the opener did as he became the first Pakistan batsman and sixth overall to register an ODI double ton.
The legendary Saeed Anwar’s long-standing record of the biggest ODI innings by a Pakistan batsman was finally broken as Fakhar went past the 194-run mark.
Before the double century came, Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq put on a world-record stand of 304 for the first wicket on a day when records fell by the wayside – albeit against a poor Zimbabwe.
As the entire cricketing world sits up to take notice of Fakhar’s brilliance, it is easy to forget that the left-hander is a late entrant to the international stage.
The former Pakistan Navy sailor made his international debut only last year in a T20I against the West Indies in June. He followed that up with some exhilarating performances in Pakistan’s fairytale ICC Champions Trophy triumph in England.
The 28-year-old’s gung-ho approach and fearless brand of cricket is very much reminiscent of former India opener Virender Sehwag. Relying very much on his hand-eye coordination and fast feet, Fakhar has brought to Pakistan cricket the explosive firepower they have been missing at the top.
With the way ODI cricket has transformed greatly in the past few years, gone are the days when a strike-rate of 70 to 80 would have been considered a reasonable effort. With 350-plus totals becoming very much a common occurrence, the need for big-hitters who can strike the ball at a rate of over 100 has greatly increased for sides around the world.
The No1 ranked ODI team in the world, England, have the luxury of the attacking prowess of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow at the top of their batting-order while No2 ranked India have Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to provide the firepower. Australia had David Warner to perform that role for them before he was handed his 12-month ban.
As such, Fakhar’s emergence over the past year bodes well for Sarfraz’s men in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup in England. The men in green have been slow to adapt to the changing times as was evident with Azhar Ali opening the innings as far back as the Champions Trophy win.
But with Arthur and Sarfraz at the helm, things are changing for the better and it has shown in their remarkable rise in T20 cricket where the side is perched at the top of the standings after winning 24 out of their last 28 games.
The biggest catalyst for this change has been Fakhar’s belligerence at the top ever since his Champions Trophy heroics.
Now, almost one year after his ODI debut, the Pakistan batsman is more than fulfilling the early promise he showed. The left-hander’s average in the ongoing series against Zimbabwe is a staggering 430 after innings of 210 not out, 43 not out, 117 not out and 60. This comes after his brilliant showing in the preceding T20 tri-series where he registered three half-centuries while scoring at an average of 55.
Seventeen matches into his ODI career, Fakhar is now on the verge of becoming the fastest batsman to 1,000 runs in the format. The batsman is just 20 runs shy of the landmark and he will in all probability break Sir Viv Richards’ record of reaching the milestone in 21 innings. Virat Kohli, the second fastest man to do so, achieved the feat in 24 innings.
With the bowling unit that Pakistan possesses along with the stability in the middle-order provided by Sarfraz and Shoaib Malik, Fakhar’s unbelievable consistency at the top is filling a crucial void in the side’s pursuit to be a top ODI outfit.
To average over 75 after 17 innings as opener is no mean feat in international cricket. If he continues this rich vein of form over the next year or so, it will not be a surprise to see Pakistan repeat their Champions Trophy script in the World Cup at the same venue next year.
The Pakistan opening batsman had recently tested positive for a drug test and was subsequently ignored for the limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe.
Shehzad had a deadline till July 19 to challenge the findings of the drug test but he has chosen not to do so. The 26-year-old did not request the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to test the ‘B’ sample according to the report.
The right-hander will not present his defence for the case in front of a tribunal on July 27, following which the PCB will recommend the length of punishment in keeping with the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The PCB had filed a charge sheet against the batsman after he failed a drug test during a domestic cricket match in Faisalabad.
Shehzad could face a minimum ban of three months for his doping offence. The right-hander was a prominent member of Pakistan’s limited-overs setup prior to his doping offence.
He has played 13 Tests, 81 ODIs and 57 T20Is for Pakistan since making his debut in 2009. His last appearance in national colours came during Pakistan’s recent tour of the UK in a T20I against Scotland.
Pacer Faheem Ashraf was the pick of the bowlers, taking a career best of 22 as the hosts were all out for just 67.
Fakhar Zaman, who scored a century in the second ODI, continued his good form with an unbeaten 43 as Pakistan reached their target inside 10 overs.
“First of all, it was a great performance,” said Sarfraz in his post-match interview. “Faheem Ashraf is getting better day by day. He’s an allrounder, and we need him.”
Speaking of his effort, Ashraf said: “I try to bowl in good areas and a stump to stump line.
“Our bowling coach [Azhar Mahmood] puts in a lot of effort. He’s really helped us to get better, and a lot of credit for my first five-for in international cricket goes to him.”
For Zimbabwe, their 67 was their lowest ever total against Pakistan and the lowest score ever recorded in 78 ODIs at Queens Sports Club.
It was always going to be a tough task against Pakistan considering Zimbabwe were missing a number of key players due to a dispute with the country’s cricket board.
And Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza admitted the performance was one they rather forget.
“It was a bit of a disaster really,” he said.
“Today we’ve gone quite a long way backwards, but these things happen in cricket. As a batting group, we have a lot of hard questions to ask ourselves.
“The main thing is to stay positive, because once you go in that direction and get down on yourself it’s very hard to come back.”