Fakhar's success comes as no surprise

15 June 2017
Our voices

The tale of Pakistan's latest boom opener points to a special future

About the Writer:

Mazher Arshad is a Pakistani statistician and journalist based out of Lahore. He has covered various Test and ODI series as a TV statistician, and has earned a reputation as one of cricket’s leading stats gurus.

There is no shortage of incredible stories in Pakistan cricket but their journey to the final of the ICC Champions Trophy is unbelievable by their own standards. 

It is about a team that was ranked eighth in the rankings, a team that barely made the cut for the tournament, a team that does not get to play at home, a team that has seven players who have not played international cricket in Pakistan, a team that came into the tournament with three uncapped players and a team that despite all these shortcomings pipped the red-hot tournament favourites England in their own backyard and qualified for the final. 

Quick Single: England caned by resurgent Pakistan

Pakistan were written off after the huge defeat at the hands of India at Edgbaston in their campaign opener but since then they have won three games on the bounce and surprised everyone.

Pakistan score upset win over Proteas

Their modus operandi though has been very unorthodox. Any team in a global tournament would think many times before handing a debut to one player let alone three. 

Pakistan have given three ODI caps in the tournament and one of those is Fakhar Zaman, the left-hand opening batsman who has been the driving force behind their batting resurgence in the past three games. Their three wins have come while chasing and Fakhar has had a key role in each of those victories. 

You look at his domestic record and wonder where Pakistan was hiding this lad. His numbers are as incredible as Pakistan's journey to the final has been. Limited-overs cricket has many good players. It has Quinton de Kock who can score hundreds in his sleep. It has Virat Kohli who can chase improbable targets without any fuss. It has AB de Villiers whose shots defy coaching manuals. But none of these superstars began their limited-overs cricket as good as Fakhar. 

It is not to say that Fakhar is as great as the names mentioned above or that Pakistan have unearthed a batsman as big as them. No. There should not be any comparison at this stage. But it is just interesting to know that the start of Fakhar's career has been better than many contemporary batsmen.

Pakistan's opening pair flays England

Fakhar's 57 off 58 balls knock that led Pakistan to a thumping eight-wicket victory against England was the 50th innings of his List A career after which he now has 2,409 runs at an average of 50.18. Just two players in limited-overs history have had more runs than him at this stage of career - South Africa's Graeme Pollock (2,854) and India's Abhinav Mukund (2,550). Third on the list, who Fakhar has just toppled, was Kohli with 2,202 runs. 

"Question has to be asked- where has this FAKHAR been hiding? Great start Pakistan!!," wondered Stephen Fleming, the winning captain of the Champions Trophy 2000, on Twitter after seeing his debut innings against South Africa. 

Fakhar was born in Mardan, a city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province of Pakistan, but took cricket seriously when he moved to Karachi to join the Pakistan Navy. At a very young age of 16 years, he joined the Navy as a sailor but after a year left it for the sake of cricket and later rejoined it as a sportsman. 

His coach at Pakistan Navy Cricket Academy introduced him to Azam Khan who is famous for promoting young players in Karachi and is currently the manager of Quetta Gladiators at the Pakistan Super League. 

By virtue of his performances at the district U19 level and later with Karachi's U21 and U23 teams, Fakhar finally made his debut in Pakistan's domestic cricket competition for Karachi Zebras in 2012 and scored 141 and 165 in his second season. 

Pakistan through to semis in Cardiff thriller

His major breakthrough came last year in Faisalabad when he finished the Pakistan Cup, a domestic 50-overs tournament, as the second-highest scorer including a match-winning knock of 115 runs for KP in the final. 

Later in the same year he toured England and Zimbabwe with Pakistan's 'A' teams where his potential as an attacking batsman was further highlighted. 

He rose to more prominence when he played with the likes of Brendon McCullum and Jason Roy for Lahore Qalandars in the PSL's second edition this year. 

Qalandars, who got the wooden spoon in the PSL, would often joke that their real victory lies in giving Pakistan a batsman as good as Fakhar. 

Those who have followed him from domestic cricket must have not been surprised by his performance in the Champions Trophy. 

"Fakhar started cricket with me and we both used to play for Pakistan Cricket Club in Karachi," recalled Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed after the semi-final victory in Cardiff. "After that he shifted to Mardan but I had seen him play.

"When he made his U19 debut for Karachi he turned out to be the best batsman in the first very season.

"He then played domestic cricket and we gave him regular chances in the 'A' team.

"From the 'A' team we brought him in the Pakistan team. He could not get too many opportunities in the T20Is (against West Indies this year) but grabbed them with both hands in the Champions Trophy. I think the credit goes to him and we hope that he will keep on delivering these performances for Pakistan."

Jubilant Pakistan fans celebrate semi-final win

Although he hasn't played a big innings yet his quick-fire knocks of 31, 50 and 57 in the three games have been a great advantage for Pakistan, a side that has historically struggled while chasing. 

It is not that he does not have knack of playing the big innings. Just nine months ago, in a match for Pakistan A on a Zimbabwe tour, the 27-year-old scored 180 off 146 balls, which is the highest score by any batsman in a Pakistan cap in limited-overs cricket after Saeed Anwar's 194 against India in 1997. Fakhar has revealed in an interview that his aim is to break Anwar's 194 record. 

England more than anyone else would know that he is a handy bowler too. With his left-arm spin Fakhar took five wickets in the series decider between the 'A' teams in the UAE in 2016 helping Pakistan A to beat England Lions 3-2. 

Fakhar's idol though is Adam Gilchrist, the former Australian swashbuckling opening batsman. Like his idol, his strength in batting is to see and hit the ball. He has a lot of distance to cover to be anything near to Gilchrist but timing of the ball is one thing that he seems to have learnt by watching the Australian play.

Hasan leads Pakistan rout of England

It is a well-known fact that Pakistan have struggled to match the scoring rates of modern cricket in the recent years. Their run rate (4.33) in overs 1-10 in ODIs in the last five years is only better than Zimbabwe's 4.16 among full member teams. Keeping that shortcoming in mind, Fakhar's emergence as an attacking opening batsman, especially after losing Sharjeel Khan in a corruption inquiry, has been a good omen for Pakistan. 

"After losing Sharjeel (Khan), we needed an attacking and aggressive batsman at the top. It is good to see that we have found it in the form of Fakhar Zaman," said Junaid Khan, who Fakhar once rated as the best bowler he had faced. 

"I have played with him at the domestic level and he is a good batsman. When he was playing for Abbottabad, I had recommended his name to Younis Khan," added Junaid.  

Like many other budding batsmen, Fakhar at a nascent stage of his career had some technical flaws. The experts believe that he hasn't been tested yet in the conditions where the ball swings. That is one deficiency that he needs to overcome. His strength though lies in the courage and the confidence to take on any bowler as he showed against South Africa in his debut. 

The last time and only other time a Mardan-born batsman played for Pakistan he ended up being the most prolific batsman in Pakistan's Test history. If Fakhar can match even half the legacy of Younis Khan that could be the start of something very special for Pakistan. 

Champions Trophy 2017 Guide

Squads: Every Champions Trophy nation


1 JuneEngland beat Bangladesh by eight wickets

2 JuneNew Zealand v Australia, No Result

3 JuneSri Lanka lost to South Africa by 96 runs

4 June – India beat Pakistan by 124 runs

5 JuneAustralia v Bangladesh, No Result

6 JuneEngland beat New Zealand by 87 runs

7 JunePakistan beat South Africa by 19 runs (DLS method)

8 JuneSri Lanka beat India by seven wickets

9 JuneBangladesh beat New Zealand by five wickets

10 JuneEngland beat Australia by 40 runs (DLS method)

11 JuneIndia beat South Africa by eight wickets

12 JunePakistan beat Sri Lanka by three wickets

14 June First semi-final: England lost to Pakistan by eight wickets

15 JuneSecond semi-final: Bangladesh v India, Edgbaston (D)

18 JuneFinal: Pakistan v TBC, The Oval (D)

19 June – Reserve day (D)

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