Has Fakhar Zaman brought an end to Pakistan’s opening woes in ODI cricket?
Pakistan has always been one of the most fascinating teams in international cricket. The subcontinental giants have played an aggressive and entertaining brand of cricket which have won them plaudits all around the world.
Pakistan is known to have a never say die attitude and have turned around games from no-win situations. Over the years, the men in green have produced some exceptional fast bowlers, quality all-rounders and some magicians with the willow.
The dominance of the 90s
In the mid and late 90s, Pakistan were a formidable ODI unit thanks to a bunch of world class cricketers. While their bowling attack of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Akhtar was lethal, the batting unit was power packed with Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq, Ijaz Ahmed, Aamir Sohail and Saleem Malik.
The turn of the century witnessed the ODI fortunes of the nation dwindle courtesy a civil war back home and a lot of infighting among the senior players. One problem that has consistently troubled Pakistan cricket is the lack of a dependable opener in ODI cricket. Ever since the retirement of Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail, Pakistan has struggled to get a stable opening pair for almost two decades.
For the most part of the 90s, the Anwar-Sohail combination was one of the most lethal opening pairs in the 50-overs format. Both Anwar and Sohail were aggressive in their intent and provided the team with some quick fire starts in the power plays.
Anwar with his sublime timing was a class apart and had the penchant to score some match-winning tons. The Anwar-Sohail combination was ranked at par with much famed Ganguly-Sachin, Jayasuriya-Kaluwitharana, Waugh-Gilchrist and Kirsten-Gibbs pairs. When Sohail retired, Anwar formed a successful opening pair with the enigmatic Shahid Afridi.
The early 2000s and the opening struggles
‘Boom Boom’ Afridi provided a lot of fireworks upfront with his belligerent power hitting and Anwar played the role of the stabilizer at the start of the innings. Once Saeed Anwar bid adieu to ODI cricket, many youngsters put up their hands to fill in the shoes of one of the greatest openers.
The likes of Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat and Taufiq Umar were all deserving candidates and looked to have the technique and temperament to become quality ODI openers. Hameed and Farhat started their careers in blazing fashion and promised to have a long career ahead of them.
However, inconsistencies crept into their batting and they could never cement their place at the top of the order. Pakistan had a pocked dynamite in Imran Nazir but much like Shahid Afridi, he was pretty much up and down in his contributions with the willow. Both Nazir and Afridi could decimate the best of attacks on their day but failed more often than not to convert their starts into big scores.
In the first decade of the new millennium, Salman Butt became Pakistan’s first choice opener and rewarded the team with some useful contributions with the bat. Salman had a well-organised technique and could play the sheet anchor’s role to build an innings.
In what came as a big blow to Pakistan cricket, Salman Butt was convicted in a match-fixing scandal in 2010 and handed a five-year ban by the ICC, thereby abruptly ending a promising ODI career. Meanwhile, Pakistan tried wicket-keeper batsman Kamran Akmal as a makeshift opener and he proved to be quite successful in the role of an aggressor upfront.
Akmal produced whirlwind cameos to give his side the much-required momentum early on, in the innings. However, he wasn’t one who could be banked upon to play the big innings and win matches for his country.
All-rounder Mohammad Hafeez partly solved Pakistan’s opening woes and been a hard-working run accumulator for his team at the top of the innings. Hafeez was well partnered by Ahmed Shehzad who looks to have the talent but certainly lacks composure to deliver on a consistent basis.
Pakistan had a lot of expectations from left-handed openers Nasir Jamshed and Sharjeel Khan, however, both fell victims to the menace of spot-fixing. Jamshed and Sharjeel Khan were convicted of spot-fixing charges in the 2017 Pakistan Cricket League and handed bans by the cricket board.
In what seemed to be a desperate measure to plug the gaping hole in the opening slot, seasoned middle-order batsman Azhar Ali was promoted up the order to provide stability at the top.
The 2017 Champions Trophy final and the emergence of a new hero
Eventually, after a lot of chopping and changing, Pakistan has finally got a quality opener in Fakhar Zaman who looks to have the batting credentials to be successful in the white ball format.
The aggressive southpaw has given the cricketing world a glimpse of his batting pedigree by flaying quite a few world-class attacks. Zaman’s turnaround innings came when he scored a match-winning ton against arch-rivals India in the finals of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and helped Pakistan win the title. Zaman has gone from strength to strength and been a heavy run scorer for Pakistan at the top of the order.
Zaman’s run-scoring pedigree can be judged from the fact that he recently, became the fastest batsman to notch up 1000 ODI runs. The Pakistan opener took just 18 innings to reach the milestone. Fakhar further strengthened his case as one of the finest openers in the game at present after he became the first Pakistan batsman to score a double century in ODIs, achieving the feat against Zimbabwe.
Much to Pakistan’s delight, Zaman has also found a dependable opening partner in the talented Inam Ul Haq who is equipped with the right technique to combat the new ball and play his elegant strokes.
With the ICC World Cup coming up in England next year, Pakistan would draw some solace from the fact that they have an invaluable batting asset in the form of Fakhar Zaman. Zaman’s presence up the order shall definitely provide the boost to Babar Azam, Azhar Ali, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed to express themselves and score runs freely in the middle order.
The big question remains is whether Zaman can consistently perform at the level he has attained early in his career and become Pakistan’s batting mainstay in limited overs format.