Courtesy: Dawn News/AFP
There is just something about left-handers that pleases the eye. For some reason, the southpaws seem to wield the cricket bat with a natural style and panache that most right-handers not named Babar Azam or Hashim Amla just do not possess.
Without knowing anything else about two batsmen, you can safely assume that a left-hander will be more aesthetically pleasing than an equally gifted right-hander. Those are the rules, we didn’t make them.
Fakhar Zaman is not like the other left-handers. He does not have the natural flair that left-handers usually have in spades — he is not even the most stylish left-handed opening batsman in his own side. But then again, Fakhar is not like any other batsman either.
Pakistan fans have been pining for Saeed Anwar’s elegance and efficiency for nearly two decades, wistfully rubbing their hands over the framed pictures of Anwar they keep on their mantlepieces. Anwar had all of the grace and flair reserved exclusively for left-handers and then had a healthy second helping of it on top of that. The baggy light green jersey, the disdainful flicks off his pads, the smooth arc of the bat on that cover drive — they just hit different.
But in their search for Anwar’s second coming, Pakistan fans have never quite given Fakhar his flowers. It may sound anathema to those who grew up watching and admiring Anwar in the 90s, but Fakhar is the best opening batsman Pakistan have ever produced. Better even than the great Anwar. The cold hard numbers say as much.
Fakhar may appear a common brute compared to Anwar, a battering ram slamming the door down with all his might when Anwar only needed to whisper sweet nothings to the ball to make it do his bidding. Hell, it seems Fakhar’s wrists are stiffer than Anwar’s elbows were.
Yet there are no extra style points in cricket, and you can bet your bottom dollar most bowlers would rather come up against Michelangelo’s brush which was Anwar’s bat than Thor’s hammer which is Fakhar’s. Anwar was surely ahead of his time, but the same can be said of Fakhar during the era where cricket is at its most cut-throat — cold, hard data picking apart every little minutia.
Fakhar demonstrated that once again with his unbeaten 180 as Pakistan chased down 337 against New Zealand. It was the highest-ever successful chase in Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s second-highest successful chase ever and the second-highest total New Zealand have failed to defend. Fakhar made it look like a walk in the park as he scored more than half of Pakistan’s total runs.
Only seven batsmen in ODI history with 3,000 or more runs have a better average than Fakhar’s 49.7 — Babar being the only other Pakistani on that list. Only 13 batsmen have a better strike-rate than Fakhar’s 94.3 — Shahid Afridi being the only other Pakistani on that list. Fakhar is operating at close to Babar levels of efficiency while maintaining nearly Afridi’s levels of destructiveness. The only other batsman in the history of the game with 3,000 runs to better Fakhar in both markers is AB de Villiers, and there is certainly no shame in coming second to that name. These are giddy heights indeed.
The way Fakhar changed gears at will during the chase showed a versatility for which he is given very little credit. He is viewed by many as a simple bludgeoner, but bludgeoners do not often play the monster innings that Fakhar has shown himself capable of.
The Mardan-born has 10 centuries in only 67 games and has scored three of Pakistan’s four highest-ever ODI scores. No bowler managed to dismiss him in any of those three innings, with an unbeaten 210 and Saturday’s unbeaten 180 sandwiched by a heroic 193 against South Africa in which he was run-out in controversial fashion. When Fakhar gets in, it is terribly difficult to get him out.
The Mardan-born is currently in the form of his life and his tournament-winning exploits in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) came between him becoming only the fourth Pakistani in history to score three consecutive ODI centuries.
Fakhar’s century against India in the Champions Trophy has ensured him immortality but the left-hander has shown on multiple occasions that he really gets going under pressure. He is the only batsman in history to score more than 175 on multiple occasions when chasing, while his average jumps up to over 83 when chasing scores of over 300.
This bodes well for Pakistan in a World Cup year because Fakhar is a man for the big occasions. He recently turned 33 and is certain to be playing his final World Cup later this year in the cauldron of noise and pressure that is India. After a disappointing 2019 World Cup in which Pakistan and Fakhar underperformed, he will be raring to right the only wrong of an incredible career so far.
If Fakhar can finally deliver at the biggest stage like he has consistently delivered in a career that unfortunately bloomed too late, then maybe he will finally get the love and adulation he deserves. It is time to recognise Fakhar for what he is — the greatest opener Pakistan have ever produced.