Fakhar Zaman rewarded for his risk
Pakistan are at their best when they play with flair. Remember when their fast bowlers would carve through batting line-ups and their openers batted with elegance and aggression? Their bowling prowess has never gone away. Almost all their problems in the recent past have stemmed from their inability to match modern batting standards. Their Champions Trophy opener, against India, was no different. Then, Fakhar Zaman made his debut and Pakistan's cricket changed again.
Cuts, drives, pulls, heck even reverse sweeps, Zaman has them all. After a nervy beginning in the final - it was the biggest game of his life after all - Zaman's belligerence showed what Pakistan missed earlier. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the world's top Test bowlers, were treated with disdain.
For someone so attuned to an attacking approach, it seemed like a false shot wasn't far away. Where was the mis-hit pull and the badly-timed lofted drive that characterised Pakistan's unfamiliarity with offense in the past year? South Africa, England and India are still looking. Zaman's hundred, a landmark he reached with a fearless sweep off a straight ball, led Pakistan to their best batting performance of the decade, allowing their bowlers to enjoy the rare absence of pressure.
The wow moment
Zaman's maiden ton wasn't flawless. He made two errors, the first a leaden-footed poke at Jasprit Bumrah in the fourth over. His outside edge was taken, but Bumrah had overstepped. His second mistake was a misjudgment of a single Azhar Ali called for in the 23rd over. He didn't respond and Azhar was run-out. India were breathing again.
Then, Zaman picked up Jadeja by the neck and hammered him for two fours and a six in the 27th over. In the next over, he stepped out and cross-batted Ashwin for 14 runs. These weren't strokes played on the merit of the ball, they were calculated risks, even offering India a way back in if he failed. Eventually, it came down to improvisation and execution, to which coach Mickey Arthur will credit Zaman two green ticks.
Stats that matter
- Zaman's 114 was the highest score by a Pakistan batsman in a final of a World Cup or Champions Trophy
- Azhar Ali and Zaman's 128-run stand was the highest first-wicket partnership against India at an ICC event
- Zaman scored 51 off his 114 runs between long on and square leg
What they said
"When guys like Zaman gets going, he plays unorthodox shots, they're really difficult to stop. Eighty percent of his shots were high risk and they were all coming off. You can only do so much as a bowler and a captain when that is happening. Sometimes you've to sit and say the guy is good enough on the day to tackle everything. The controllables become very little when people are going well like that.."
Virat Kohli on why it was hard to stop the Pakistan opener
"I was lucky with the no-ball. It's a final against India, so I just tried to enjoy the innings. I wasn't feeling well yesterday, I was thinking I wouldn't be able to play but the physio said I would be fine in the morning."
Fakhar Zaman after his maiden century
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo