KARACHI: After a dramatic slump with the bat during the 2019 international cricket season, dashing opener Fakhar Zaman expressed hope on Tuesday that he’ll rediscover his touch during Pakistan’s tour of England under the guidance of his mentor Younis Khan.
The 30-year-old left-handed batsman from Mardan had a golden year in 2018 during which he became the first Pakistani to score a One-day International (ODI) double century — an unbeaten 210 off only 156 balls against Zimbabwe at the Queen’s Sports Club in Bulawayo — while also becoming the fastest from any country to reach 1,000 ODI runs in just 18 innings.
Fakhar, who scored a fortuitous 117 against India during the ICC Champions Trophy final which Pakistan handsomely won by 180 runs in June 2017, had a lean time during the 2019 ICC World Cup where he mustered just 186 runs from eight matches at 23.25. While his overall performance during 2019 in the 50-over format wherehe accumulated 683 runs in 20 innings at 34.15 with one century (138 versus England) was satisfactory, Fakhar went through a horrendous year in the Twenty20 International format, scoring only 50 runs in eight innings at an average of just 6.25 with a highest of 17. His last five innings made a depressing reading - 7, 6, 0, 0 and 2 - before he was dumped from the team.
‘Looking ahead to my mentor Younis Khan’s guidance’
“I have no hesitation in saying my performances in 2019 were something I want to forget, especially in T20 cricket. I felt completely down and gutted considering the unforgettable time I had enjoyed the year before  when everything clicked for me,” Fakhar said while talking to reporters during a teleconference.
“I think it’s a blessing in disguise that Younis would be accompanying the team for the England tour. He’s someone I always look up as a calming influence and have played cricket at the domestic level with. I will take maximum advantage of his presence in the squad because there’s no better example than Younis who knows inside out what is required to make a comeback.”
Summing up what had gone on in the past year or so, the slump [in form] was a real kick in the back and if people say that I had become overconfident, I’ll admit that it was the case. Getting overconfident and not improving my overall game were surely the biggest mistakes I committed,” said the left-hander.”
Getting out in weird ways crept into my play and the mind was definitely far away from the job for which I was picked [by the national selectors]. At the time I felt depressed because I was repeatedly committing the same errors and the shot-selection was completely against the norms of cricket. I was going nowhere as far as international career was concerned. The airy-fairy style of batting wasn’t doing any good, although Mickey Arthur [then Pakistan head coach] had given me the licence to bat with freedom from the word go. The consequences unsurprisingly were disastrous with that kind of approach,” recalled Fakhar.
Fakhar, who plundered 875 ODI runs from 17 innings in 2018 at 67.30, admitted his initial game was to launch his innings watchfully. “I felt in the zone by taking time to adjust to the conditions and the runs came without much difficulties. But Arthur saw something else in my game. In hindsight I realized that I should have stuck to the basics instead of changing the way I wanted to bat.”
Expressing views on the upcoming England tour where Pakistan are scheduled to play three Tests and as many Twenty20 Internationals, Fakhar said the task in front would be challenging not only for him but the entire team in the prevailing circumstances due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The break [from international cricket] obviously taught me lessons which I’ll always remind myself about, but I’m optimistic that Insha’Allah my form will return and inevitably the big runs would also come. The upcoming tour is taking place in contrasting environment but if we strictly adhere to the SOPs [standard operating procedures] I think we all will be safe.”
Fakhar’s overall record still looks impressive - 1946 runs in 46 ODIs at 46.61 with a strikerate of 95.23 with three centuries - while in 34 T20Is he has made 756 runs at 22.90 with a strike rate of 136.70. He also played three Tests in which he scored 192 runs — including knocks of 94 and 66 on debut against Australia at Abu Dhabi in October 2018.
But his real strength lies in limited-overs cricket despite his desire to play the five-day Tests again. “I love Test cricket because that is where one is properly tested. But my first priority is to reclaim the lost spot in the playing XI regardless of format,” Fakhar pledged.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2020