Thursday, October 18, 2018

Finally, The Perfect Test Debut for Fakhar Zaman!

Following several successful domestic seasons, Fakhar Zaman finally made it to Pakistan's ODI squad for the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017.

The little I had seen of him, I was quite excited to see this potentially explosive batsman open for Pakistan.

However, Pakistan's squad already had Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, and Ahmed Shehzad as openers, which made most people wonder what was the need for another opener.

I remember at the time a number of people said "Fakhar is a mere slogger, nai chalega".

Not many believed he was international standard. But I really wanted to see him open for Pakistan.

The Pakistan team management probably did not have much faith either as they went with Azhar and Shehzad as the openers for their first Champions Trophy game against India.

An embarrassing loss against India and loss of patience with Shehzad resulted in Fakhar finally getting the nod for Pakistan's next match against South Africa.

I could not wait to see this left hander in greens.

Fakhar impressed everyone with a 22 ball attacking 31, which was laced with 6 hits to the fence.

Fakhar looked every bit the international batsman, but even then there were questions.

"He just lasted 20 odd deliveries"

"He's just a T20 batsman, shouldn't play ODIs"

All sorts of judgments were passed.

But Fakhar would have none of it as he marched on and improved with every outing in the Champions Trophy.

His next three innings were 50, 57, and 114, with the last one coming in the Final against India.

Fakhar Zaman had arrived!

He continued to dominate the bowling in ODIs and T20Is.

He scored against all sides and in all conditions.

He was so good in limited overs that even Babar Azam was over shadowed.

With an average of 59 and a strike rate of 99 in ODIs, coupled with an average of 31 and a strike rate of 143 in T20Is, there is no longer any doubt in anyone's mind that Fakhar is every bit an international opener and a world class batsman.

His success in the shorter format earned him a call to the Test squad for the one-off test against Ireland and the two tests against England this summer.

I thought that was a great idea and just what Pakistan needed - someone who could take the attack to the opposition early on.

Since Saeed Anwar, Pakistan really hasn't had a dominating opening batsman in tests.

Fakhar was a great prospect and once again I was excited to see him don the whites for Pakistan.

But throughout the UK tour, the team management preferred to open with Azhar Ali and Imam Ul Haq. Fakhar did not get a chance to display his talent in whites.

I had thought that it would have been ideal to open with Fakhar with Imam with Azhar at 3, but the Pakistan team management opted to play 5 batsmen, with Sarfraz at 6, followed by a couple of allrounders.

That combination worked no doubt, but I feel Pakistan missed a great opportunity to test Fakhar.

Especially in the tour games and the test against Ireland. That would have been an ideal start to Fakhar's test career.

It didn't bog Fakhar down however as he continued to destroy bowling attacks in ODIs and in the process became the first batsman from Pakistan to score an ODI double hundred.

When Pakistan's test squad for Australia was announced, Fakhar was in there again, as the third opener alongside the first choice pair of Azhar Ali and Imam Ul Haq.

If Fakhar had any chance of making his test debut, it was all dispelled when Pakistan's selectors decided to include Mohammad Hafeez in the test squad at the last minute.

A fourth opener meant that Fakhar had moved even further down the pekking order.

For the first test, the team management moved Azhar Ali back to number 3 with Hafeez and Imam opening.

Hafeez, coming back to the side after two years, celebrated his comeback with a hundred.

Imam continued to show why he will be opening for Pakistan for the next decade and a half.

Both were also involved in a 200 run opening partnership, which meant that Fakhar will have to wait a while.

I wondered whether Fakhar will ever play test cricket.

Some even thought it was best he doesn't because his game is only suited to white ball cricket.

I always thought otherwise. Look at the impact the likes of Virender Sehwag, Matthew Hayden, and Chris Gayle have had while opening in tests. They all have triple centuries against their names.

Then Imam injured his hand and was ruled out of the second test.

This was Fakhar's chance I thought. He will finally make his debut.

A few days away from the second test against Australia, I started hearing that Sarfraz and Arthur will move Azhar back to open the innings and slot Usman Salahuddin in the middle order.

Meaning Fakhar will not get his chance in whites yet again.

On the eve of the second test however, Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed that Fakhar will play.

That was it. I couldn't wait for the debut.

All of Pakistan was excited to see Fakhar make his debut, see Fakhar take Australia's bowling apart.

While some skeptics continued to say that it was a mistake and Usman Salahuddin was once again hard done by.

Maybe Usman was, actually I think he was, because he truly deserves to play test cricket for Pakistan, but the prospect of Fakhar Zaman opening in test cricket is too good to ignore.

Pakistan won the toss and out walked Fakhar Zaman in whites making his test debut.

While I had thought that he will play his natural attacking game, Fakhar not only surprised me, but also silenced all those skeptics who had wondered whether he was good enough for test cricket or not.

Fakhar was sedate and cautious.

Maybe it was the nerves of a test debut, or maybe it was the fact that he saw three batsmen fall for ducks while he looked on from the non-striker's end.

Fakhar was out there when Pakistan collapsed from 57-1 to 57-5 in the span of 10 deliveries.

While an experienced campaigner might have been used to this, for a debutant that would have been nerve wrecking.

Not for Fakhar though.

He continued to bat cautiously and started to rebuild Pakistan's innings together with Sarfraz Ahmed.

A batsman who was used to batting at a strike rate of over a 100, was batting at a strike rate in the 40s.

It wasn't the same Fakhar I, or anyone else, was used to.

He was really unfortunate to miss a debut century, but Fakhar's 94 scored of 198 deliveries at a strike rate of 47 was a test innings par excellence.

It was one of the best debut innings played by a Pakistani batsman under pressure.

Forget the skeptics, even I did not think that Fakhar could curb his natural instinct and play sedately.

It was an outstanding debut innings.

Fakhar wasn't done yet.

He walked out for the second innings, with a lot less pressure as Pakistan was already leading by 137 runs, and he took the attack to Australia's bowling.

He raced to a run a ball fifty becoming the first opener from Pakistan to score a 50 in each innings of his debut test.

His second knock ended on 66, scored at a strike rate of 80.

This one was more a Fakhar innings, but more importantly what Fakhar showed in his debut test was that he can bat according to the situation.

If caution was required he can easily rein himself in and play like he did in the first innings. If aggression was required he can easily smash the bowling around like he did in the second innings.

It was the perfect debut for Fakhar Zaman and I can't wait to see more!

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