Temba Bavuma calls Pakistan opener’s innings “incredible… the best I’ve come across”
For a little while, the memory may have drifted back to Abu Dhabi, over a decade ago, when Abdul Razzaq pulled off one of Pakistan’s most improbable heists against South Africa. In the end Pakistan – basically Fakhar Zaman – fell desperately close, closer than the 17-run margin suggests. But had they pulled it off, it would’ve been of a different order of magnitude of improbable from that memorable Abu Dhabi night, even accounting for the runs inflation in the years since.
Pakistan were 70 for 2, 71 for 3, 85 for 4, 120 for 5, 186 for 6 and 205 for 7, all the while with Zaman at the other end, playing an unusually restrained innings. It was only after he got to his 100, at a shade under a run-a-ball in the 39th over that he really blew the game open. Pakistan were already seven down and 130 short at that stage, but a flurry of seven sixes across the next five overs, five of them off Tabraiz Shamsi, pulled Pakistan right back into it.
In the process Zaman broke a few records, and though the manner of his dismissal ultimately grabbed the attention, once the dust of settles there a proper appraisal of this innings might begin. And it may well see his 193 rank among the greatest one-day innings played by a Pakistani. Temba Bavuma, the South Africa captain, thought it a bit more. “He played an incredible innings,” he said. “It’s the best I have come across. To chase down 340 single-handedly is always tough. But the innings he played was an incredible one. He remained quite clear.”
It won’t be lessened any by the fact that he got so close to a second ODI double (that too in southern Africa).
“I don’t regret not getting the double, I regret losing the match,” he said afterwards. “If we had won this it would’ve been amazing so my regret is about that. The situation was such that I was only focusing on getting the win, not the double. I couldn’t finish it but I’d take scoring less runs than this and winning the game.”
Personally it was a timely innings. Zaman had been in lean ODI form for a while – this was his first hundred since May 2019 and he was averaging a touch over 25 in the period in between.
Initially that seemed to be playing on his mind though it turned out that Pakistan’s stumbling start and the nature of South African wickets for openers played a bigger part in his early sedateness. He was going at over a run-a-ball before Babar Azam and then Mohammad Rizwan fell in quick succession, but he went from 25 off 21 to a fifty off 70 thereafter. It was around that period, with Pakistan five down and with Shamsi entrenched at one end, that he thought he would start going after it and felt that the chase was still on.
Interestingly enough, it was a chat with Sarfaraz Ahmed – former captain and now part of the squad but no longer in the side – during a drinks break that convinced him to go for it.
“Yes, to be honest [I thought we could win it even then], I think around the 25th over I just called Saifi bhai [Sarfraz Ahmed], he knows my game, I talked to him and said ask Babar can I start playing my natural game because Shamsi was bowling with small boundaries,” he said. “At that time I was feeling that if I start hitting then I could win the game for Pakistan.
“When wickets were falling and we were 200 for 7, I was just telling the others coming in to stick around. Don’t get out. Don’t worry about the runs, don’t get out. The wickets here, you can’t stop runs on so I was just telling them to stick around with me, don’t get out.”
What became evident the longer the chase went was the absence of one durable partner. It was the lack of stickability at the top, in fact, that Pakistan were likely to rue the most.
“If you’re the first batsman, or the number 11, the first 10-15 runs are very difficult on these pitches,” Zaman said. “On Asian wickets it isn’t like that but here it is. Unluckily not many of our top order got through 20-25 balls. Until you get through that start here, you don’t get runs. Babar got a little set but others didn’t so people got out quickly. Had anyone gotten set, it would’ve become easier but unfortunately it just didn’t happen.”