In-form Fakhar Zaman key to Pakistan's hopes in ODI series decider against New Zealand

Waseem Ahmed 17:48 10/11/2018
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Fakhar Zaman bounced back into form in the second ODI.

When Mohammad Hafeez hit the winning boundary in the second ODI against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, it ended Pakistan’s losing streak of 12 matches in the format to the Blackcaps.

It also helped the Men in Green level the three-match series at 1-1 and set things up perfectly for the decider in Dubai on Sunday.

For all their domination in the T20 format where they are the undisputed No1 team, Sarfraz Ahmed‘s men have failed to translate that form to one-day cricket. Despite having all the makings of an excellent limited-overs squad, Pakistan have failed to really impose themselves in the ODI format with their recent showing in the Asia Cup a testament to their woes.

Skipper Sarfraz had touched upon the importance of transforming their 50-over fortunes in the build-up to the ODI series against the Blackcaps. One of the aspects the wicketkeeper batsman had stressed upon was the need for his top-order batsmen to fire in order to reduce the pressure on the rest of the batting order.

The 31-year-old lamented the lack of partnerships at the top and has highlighted it as one of the reasons for Pakistan’s struggles in the format.

With what he saw on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, the Pakistan skipper can very well be pleased. Set a tricky target of 210 to chase, Pakistan openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq set things up perfectly with a half-century stand between them before the latter was struck by a vicious Lockie Ferguson bouncer and had to retire hurt.

Imam’s start to his international career has been sensational to say the least and his partnership with Fakhar at the top has all the makings of an excellent long-term opening combination for Pakistan.

The in-form Babar Azam then took charge at Sheikh Zayed Stadium after Imam’s retirement as he stitched together a century stand with Fakhar that all but won the game for Pakistan. While Babar was his usual composed self, it will be the form of Fakhar which will please Sarfraz and the team management most.

Fakhar and Babar will be key for Pakistan in the final ODI.

Fakhar and Babar will be key for Pakistan in the final ODI.

The explosive opening batsman has been off colour of late in ODIs following his heroics on the tour of Zimbabwe where he became the first Pakistan batsman to register a double ton in the format.

Since then, the left-hander has failed to fire with his patchy form costing Pakistan dear in the Asia Cup. His 88 on Saturday was his first ODI half-century on Asian soil and it could not have come at a better time for Pakistan.

With the series on the line on Sunday and Imam a major doubt after the blow to his head, Pakistan will need Fakhar to fire if they are to quell the Kiwi challenge.

Babar is in excellent form while veteran Shoaib Malik can be relied upon in any give situation in the middle-order. The bowling department has a solid look with young Shaheen Afridi looking mightily impressive in the two matches so far with his eight wickets.

The left-arm pacer’s stellar form has been the biggest positive for Pakistan in the series so far although it is puzzling that Sarfraz has opted to not utilise his full quota of 10 overs in both games.

Shaheen Afridi has been the pick of Pakistan's pacers.

Shaheen Afridi has been the pick of Pakistan’s pacers.

Hasan Ali remains an experienced campaigner with the white-ball while Faheem Ashraf provides another seaming option. The spin department remains one of Pakistan’s biggest strengths on the slow tracks of the UAE with Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez forging a solid unit.

The win in the second ODI could very well be the turning point for Pakistan’s fortunes in the format as they get ready for the series decider. However, this form will once again be dependent on their top-order and how Fakhar and Babar fare on Sunday could very well be the deciding factor.

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Umesh Yadav was highly expensive in the tied second ODI.

If the two ODIs so far against the West Indies have taught India anything, it is the fact that their pace arsenal in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar is nothing to shout home about.

While Wednesday’s dramatic tie at Vishakapatnam will be remembered most for skipper Virat Kohli’s record-breaking innings of 157, it partly overshadows what was a poor bowling display from the hosts.

In the two matches in the series, the Indian bowlers have conceded 321 and 322 runs respectively against a much-depleted West Indies side missing many of their star names.

The same Windies batsmen who couldn’t buy a run to save their lives in the preceding Test series have gone on to make a striking impact in the ODIs, with Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope being the prime examples.

In the first ODI at Guwahati, India went in with a three-man pace attack of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Khaleel Ahmed. While both Umesh and Khaleel conceded 64 runs each from their quota of 10 overs, Shami was taken for 81 runs.

In the second game at Vishakapatnam, skipper Virat Kohli opted to go with a two-man pace attack with Khaleel being the unfortunate bowler to miss out. This time it was Shami who finished with respectable figures of 1-59 while Umesh was carted for 78 runs, including the 13 runs he conceded in the final over of the match.

The countdown for the 2019 World Cup to be held in England is fast under way and every ODI India play between now and then is geared towards forging a settled unit capable of challenging for the coveted title.

India's options beyond Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are bare.

India’s options beyond Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are bare.

The top-order batting remains exceptional while a few worries still remain about the shaky middle-order. The spin contingent is covered too with the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, while Ravindra Jadeja provides a third option.

While the pace-unit bears a strong look once Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are back in tow, question marks remain over the third option, as well as the reserves.

While Kohli has the luxury of playing just two bowlers on subcontinent tracks, a third option will be required on England pitches at times.

Shami will definitely be the frontrunner to take the third seamer’s slot in England but beyond him, the options for Kohli and India are not so mouthwatering.

Umesh blows far too hot and cold in the limited-overs format, as shown by his display in Vishakapatnam on Wednesday, even though he is only in the side after injury to Shardul Thakur. Thakur, in the first place, has never really inspired any confidence in the short international career he has had so far and his latest injury should push him back further in the pecking order.

With time running out for the World Cup, India could be well served by giving Khaleel and even Mohamed Siraj an extended run. Khaleel in fact looked the best out of India’s three pacers in Guwahati and it was a surprise to see him dropped for the second ODI.

Khaleel Ahmed brings something different to the table for India.

Khaleel Ahmed brings something different to the table for India.

The 20-year-old brings much-needed variety to India’s fast-bowling machinery with his left-armed pace. Siraj, on the other hand, has been a tad expensive in the three T20s he has played so far, but he has since enjoyed a fine run of form across all formats with India A and in domestic cricket.

Both these pacers bring something new to the table for India and can very well be developed into surprise elements for the World Cup.

Another option is Test stalwart Ishant Sharma, who has only recently returned to India’s limited-overs setup. He is a bowler with plenty of experience of bowling in English conditions, especially with his summer stint in county cricket.

There are plenty of options to choose from for India, but none seem ready-made contenders just yet. Three more matches remain in the ODI series against the Windies and those would be the perfect opportunity for Kohli to test out his reserve pace strength.

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Rohit Sharma inching towards ODI greatness with his phenomenal numbers

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'Hitman' showing no signs of stopping. Image source -BCCI/Twitter.

The first ODI between India and the West Indies on Sunday at Guwahati threw up all kinds of records as the hosts chased down a target of 323 with almost eight overs to spare.

India skipper Virat Kohli drew all the accolades for smashing his 36th ODI ton as he continued extraordinary 2018 with the bat in all formats. While Kohli dominated the headlines with his seamless 107-ball 140, his deputy skipper Rohit Sharma notched up his 20th ODI century as he remained unbeaten on a 117-ball 152.

Kohli’s remarkable consistency continues to astound one and all with the Indian superstar now on the verge of breaking the legendary Sachin Tendulkar’s record of becoming the fastest batsman to 10,000 ODI runs.

With Kohli’s unending brilliance, it is sometimes easy to overlook Rohit’s sensational form as an opener.

The deputy India skipper became the fourth fastest batsman in ODI history to notch up 20 centuries with only Hashim Amla, Kohli and AB de Villiers getting to the milestone in fewer innings.

His unbeaten 152 was also the sixth instance he had crossed the 150-run mark in ODI cricket and is now the highest by any batsman in history, bettering Tendulkar and David Warner who have five such scores to their names.

Eighteen of Rohit’s ODI tons have come at the opening position. His ODI average as an opener now stands at a whopping 57.69, which is the highest by an opener in history to have played a minimum of 30 innings.

After 104 innings as an opener, Rohit has now scored 5,250 runs at a strike-rate of over 92. Opening was not a position that Rohit took to easily with the right-hander taking 18 innings to notch up his first hundred as opener.

It is true that that ODI cricket of late has become more batsman friendly with pitches now generally conducive for high scores. Still, it is hard to overlook Rohit’s achievements when no other opener in the game has come close to matching his numbers in the same era.

He is, without a doubt, the second-best batsman in the format after Kohli and his numbers prove the same. He might not have been able to tie down a spot in the Test team all these years but come white-ball cricket, Rohit is a different beast altogether.

Another remarkable aspect about his ODI batting is the big scores he registers once he gets in. Out of the 20 tons he has hit in the format, the Mumbai-born batsman has been dismissed below 125 on only three occasions.

It is no wonder then that he holds the record for the most (three) double-tons in the format. Once the right-hander is in the zone, he is hard to shake off.

There have been plenty of openers who have entertained over the last three decades or so with Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist all making the role their own over the course of their careers.

Those batsmen are rightly mentioned as ODI greats and while Rohit might not be talked about in the same breath just yet, there is no doubt that by the time he calls time on his career, he will find his place alongside those legends should be keep up this phenomenal consistency.

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