KARACHI: After his record-breaking exploits during last month’s tour of Zimbabwe, star opener Fakhar Zaman has expressed his ambitions to don the white flannels for the country when Pakistan play ‘host’ to Australia and New Zealand in their Test series in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this year.
Fakhar, easily the standout performer in Zimbabwe where he was adjudged the man-of-the-series both in the T20 tri-series — in which Sarfraz Ahmed’s charges emerged champions after defeating Australia in the final — and the utterly lopsided five-match ODI rubber in which Pakistan trounced their hapless hosts 5-0.
The 28-year-old Mardan-born left-hander, who first hit the headlines at the global level last year with a match-winning innings of 114 in the ICC Champions Trophy final against India at The Oval, was in record-breaking mood during the One-day International series at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, becoming the quickest to the 1,000-run landmark in just 18 innings as well as surpassing Saeed Anwar’s longstanding Pakistan record of 194 — against India at Chennai in May 1997 — with an incredible 156-ball contribution of 210 not out in the fourth game.
During the course of that double century, only the sixth in all One-day Internationals, Fakhar along with Imam-ul-Haq registered the highest ODI opening partnership of 304 — overall just the fourth 300-plus stand for any wicket in this format — eclipsing 286 recorded by Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga against England at Headingley in 2006.
In a candid interview with Dawn, the modest Fakhar downplayed his astonishing contributions while insisting he never thinks about records when he turns up at the crease, while harbouring his Test ambitions.
“Honestly, I’m not a big fan of statistics because my primary objective is to help Pakistan win as much as possible. Records are meant to be broken, but for me that aspect is hardly on my mind when I go out to bat,” Fakhar said from his hometown. “Although there are many players I know who are obsessed with records and various other milestones, but to me they matter little since the requirements of the team come first.
“Nevertheless, I am quite happy with what I achieved during the [Zimbabwe] tour. By grace of Almighty Allah, Pakistan won both [T20 tri-series and the ODI rubber] and I’m glad that I played a part in our team’s success.
“When I started playing cricket, I hardly thought of representing Pakistan. My sole concern in those days was getting a job in the Navy but things changed dramatically for me from thereon. The Navy career didn’t last long but one thing which I learnt there was being disciplined in whatever profession you choose. That was a big lesson that I’ll never forget because it taught me how to achieve whatever goals I have set for myself.
“My next target is playing Test cricket. For someone who initially dreamt of getting a Pakistan cap and being proud of it probably with a few international matches, it would be some achievement to make the grade at the highest level! I feel playing a Test match, Alhamdulillah, would be an opportunity to test the skills I possess, although I consider one-day format as my favourite,” Fakhar said with a tone of assurance. “Now everyone is saying that I should be playing Test cricket. Let’s see how it goes when the time arrives.”
When asked to comment on his phenomenal form which has enabled him to jump 22 places in the ICC one-day batsmen rankings to 16th, Fakhar remarked: “I was fortunate that I was able to cash in on the opportunities to make it count in conditions which were quite different because the weather was extremely cold since we were playing in Zimbabwe’s offseason.”
Fakhar, remarkably, endured just a solitary failure in 10 innings on the entire tour when he was declared caught behind for only six while attempting to hook lanky Australian fast bowler Billy Stanlake during the second tri-series fixture at the Harare Sports Club. Whereas in the other nine knocks, Fakhar’s scores were 61 and 47 against Zimbabwe, 73 and 91 versus Australia before he punished the hapless Zimbabweans in the ODIs with scores of 60, 117 not out, 43 not out, 210 not out and 85.
Recalling his contentious dismissal, Fakhar was adamant he got a rough one from Zimbabwe umpire Jeremiah Matibiri. “I was in a state daze when he [Matibiri] adjudged me out despite the ball coming in any contact at all with either the bat or gloves. Since then I have seen replays of that decision and still can’t understand what had happened.
“But I guess this sort of stuff is part and parcel of the game and one has got to get accustomed because umpiring is a very difficult job and everyone does make mistakes at times. As a sportsman one should forget it because there are days when batsmen also get away as well,” Fakhar emphasised.
Otherwise Fakhar could do no wrong, ensuring Pakistan defeat Australia in the tri-series final with a composed 91 after the green shirts had been reduced to 2-2 while chasing 184.
Fakhar admitted he was totally unaware of Saeed Anwar’s record because he was more focused on Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur’s wish he should score a double century.
“The day before the fourth match, Mickey told me that I could get a big one in this game if I applied myself a bit more. Thereafter, Mickey’s words kept reminding me that I should get a double century because no one from Pakistan had made one,” Fakhar revealed. “Grant Flower [Pakistan batting coach] was also sure that I was capable of getting the elusive landmark. During the nets, Grant offered words of encouragement and simply advised me to stay focused on the job and not to get worried about anything else.
“That’s why I completely forgot about Saeed bhai being Pakistan’s record-holder [of the highest ODI score]. I must give a lot of credit to Imam as well as he was a tremendous source of inspiration at the other end. Whenever he noticed me getting slightly disinterested, he would come down and say: ‘You can do it brother, concentrate hard and Insha’Allah you’ll be there’.
“I think Imam deserves a pat on the back as well for his great, great support during the long partnership. Frankly speaking, having Imam as my [opening] partner is the best thing since his style of batting suits my game and moreover we have developed great rapport with each other. I consider myself extremely lucky to have him at the other end because we also bat together for Habib Bank Limited in domestic cricket.”
While the flamboyant Fakhar plundered 515 runs — the most for Pakistan in a bilateral series, bettering Salman Butt’s 451 against Bangladesh in 2008 — the unflappable Imam compiled 395 runs with three centuries to add to his debut hundred against Sri Lanka in the UAE last October.
“The best thing about Imam is that he is a thorough team man and very unselfish because he is good at rotating strike, although during our marathon partnership, he didn’t let me face my first ball until the fifth over was halfway through! But, of course, it was unintentional because Imam, by his habit, always takes the strike at the start of the innings and I have no issues with that,” Fakhar pointed out.
Talking of next year’s World Cup, Fakhar is quite optimistic of Pakistan doing well in England. “We have got a good nucleus with several young players emerging and making their mark under the authoritative leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed. Asif Ali, for example, is a very good addition to the side and is a star in the making. In my view, Asif has a very exciting career ahead of him.”