Fakhar Zaman believed, and now Pakistan believe

Fakhar Zaman, on his day, is a genuine match-winner, of that there is little doubt, not only in the Pakistan cricket fraternity but among those who have ever watched him play. Fearless, and blessed with the ability to strike the ball cleanly, he is also prone to barren runs, just because of the number of risks he takes.

During such spells, he looks anything but a top-quality batter. He struggles to know where his off stump is, his feet rarely move into the stroke, and while trying to clear the fence, he often loses his shape. All of these things were happening to him during the Asia Cup, and the early part of the World Cup (warm-up games included).

So much so that Pakistan felt they had to drop Fakhar. A proper point of difference batter was consigned to the bench. Abdullah Shafique was called up in his stead and sparkled with a century on his World Cup debut, and it seemed that Fakhar, one of Pakistan’s 2017 ICC Champions Trophy heroes, would not get a chance to brew up a similar concoction.

As is the case with most match-winners, though, there is another side to the story. On occasions, they might look very ordinary and their carefree nature could even be mistaken for carelessness.

But when they do get going, they win games of cricket, and they win games of cricket that are not meant to be won.

Fakhar against New Zealand in Bengaluru on Saturday was just that. If not more.

Fakhar Zaman produced an awesome display of power-hitting against New Zealand

Pakistan, for context, had to chase down 402 to keep their faint qualification hopes alive. 401, by the way, was the Kiwis’ second-highest ODI score ever, and their highest-ever at a men’s World Cup. The pitch was flat, and the boundaries were inviting but 402, irrespective of the lens you view it through, is daunting.

Rather than balking at it, Fakhar viewed it as an opportunity. An opportunity to tell the world just how good he is, and how destructive he can be. The pushing and prodding of the past couple of months gave way to a power game that very few across the planet, and perhaps only Fakhar, in this Pakistan team, can produce.

The ball flew to all parts, with the arc from long on to deep square leg being peppered particularly. The most astonishing aspect was that Fakhar targeted those areas against both pace and spin. He used his massive bat swing to generate power, and his slight shimmy across his stumps, coupled with the opening of his front leg, gave him room to deposit the ball into the stands.

This article, of course, is not a lesson in power-hitting. There are many others who might be more well-versed in discussing those nuances. But it would be tough for anyone who watched Fakhar’s onslaught against the Black Caps, to not go gaga and not try to relive it, long after this World Cup is done. It was that awesome.

And to think Pakistan did not feel Fakhar was good enough to be starting every game for them this World Cup. Yes, he was in a bad run of form, and perhaps needed time away from the spotlight. Pakistan’s campaign, though, has been in peril since their defeat to Australia (incidentally in Bengaluru), and it was not until the game against Bangladesh that the swashbuckling left-hander was recalled.

At his worst, he may seem just another batter. At his best, however, he is everything this Pakistan team needs, especially considering how Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, and Shafique bat, and given how many runs their bowlers are leaking each game.

Of course, it is not advisable to chase 400 every day. But if anyone has the game to put Pakistan in situations where they realistically think about winning such contests, it is Fakhar.

That he averages more than 47 in ODI cricket illustrates that he can be consistent too. Not as consistent as maybe Babar or Virat Kohli, but 47 is a very healthy average. In fact, among those who have scored more than 2000 ODI runs for Pakistan, his average is the fourth-best, and his strike rate is the second-best, only behind the mercurial Shahid Afridi.

All of this just makes Pakistan’s entire decision-making process even more perplexing, taking into account how pear-shaped the middle part of their campaign went. But that post-mortem, for now, must wait.

This is Fakhar’s moment, and it has finally arrived, even when it seemed unlikely at the start of this World Cup.

What Fakhar quipped in the aftermath of his historic hundred is also noteworthy. Not the bit about him saying he went back home, to the drawing board, and tried to rectify the weaknesses that had crept into his game. Almost all top cricketers, when dropped from the side or when in a bad vein of form, do so.

The revealing bit was that he never rested. He was at it. All the time. Not just because his standards had dropped off. But because deep down, he believed. He believed that he would have a crucial role to play at this World Cup and that he, if fit and firing, could propel this Pakistan side to unparalleled heights.

Something very similar happened in Bengaluru on Saturday. Chasing 402, in a competition where the highest-successful run-chase was only 345, Fakhar believed. He believed that he could take New Zealand apart and that Pakistan could make a proper fist of the run-chase, despite the odds being so heavily stacked against them.

Now, because of his heroics, Pakistan are still in contention for the semi-final. They will likely need a massive favor from Sri Lanka or a landslide victory against England. Whatever it is, they are still in it.

Tellingly, though, Pakistan believe. Just like Fakhar did, and akin to how both of them did in 2017. And we all know how that turned out…

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