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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