Statistics are considered the most reliable indicator of a subject’s performance — and they really are. But if we expect numbers to not lie, it’s also imperative to look at the right ones, and not the ones that can greatly mislead.
Take Pakistan opening batsman Fakhar Zaman for instance. Here are some glittering numbers from his young but impressive CV:
Zaman’s batting average is 45.70, which is 6.49 runs more than that of the great Saeed Anwar (39.21), arguably Pakistan’s best-ever opening batsman.
Zaman’s strike rate of 96.21 also puts Anwar’s strike rate of 80.67 to shame. Quite clearly, the new leftie has the old leftie beat in the two major statistical categories for batsmen.
Since no other Pakistani opener — with the exception of Imamul Haq — comes even close to Zaman’s numbers, by that logic, his place in the ODI setup should be unquestionable.
But, there's another set of stats that need to be looked at. Here’s an alternative look to give his career numbers a different perspective — be warned that what’s coming is ugly:
Zaman’s batting average over the last 26 ODIs is 29.34 — that’s 16.36 runs less than his career average. That number is lower than the batting averages of Sharjeel Khan (32.48), Ahmed Shehzad (32.56) and Khalid Latif (29.40), Nasir Jamshed (34.57) — some of the most forgettable openers Pakistan has produced over the past decade. It means that over the past 10 months, we’ve had someone open the innings for us who is pulling even less weight that the quartet above used to. And they are nowhere near the ODI setup.
Everyone knows that at the World Cup 2019 his average was 23.25 but it could have been chalked up as a one-off bust, which could have happened to anyone. But an average accumulated over 26 games and 10 months of cricket cannot be a dry patch or a form issue. This is something else.
It sounds like someone has been found out at the top level and is now making a living off of the statistics accumulated during his honeymoon period in international cricket.
Since Asia Cup 2018, his opening partner Imamul Haq has scored at a rate 49.91 runs per innings.
But the former Navy man who has seen his numbers dwindle over the same time period pretty much enjoys impunity from any sort of criticism. Because of that 114 when Jasprit Bumrah stepped over the line and gave him a lifeline? Or because of those unbeaten 117 and 210-run innings against the ‘formidable’ Zimbabwe? Or was it the 82 and 138-run innings against New Zealand last year and England this year — neither of which helped Pakistan win the match.
There is a pattern to how Zaman makes his living and earns his keep. It involves bullying the easy sides or contributing in losing causes against the big ones. When Pakistan needs him to deliver against better oppositions in crunch situations, he disappears.
It only makes sense then that he should disappear from the ODI team too — at least until he figures out a way to be productive again.
The writer is a lifelong cricket fan who lives for the Pakistan cricket team and PSL but is also a realist and has no problems calling spade a spade.