Match Analysis

The sweet sound of Fakhar's sixes makes unreal real

It's the sound of the modern batting that turns despair into dreams, as it did against New Zealand at the Chinnaswamy

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Find yourself the clip first. Then close your eyes and listen for the sound. It comes just after Waqar Younis is completing some point about the batting being very, very hard in the second half and just before Shane Watson, not on air but in the commentary box, can't help but gasp "Woaaah!" And before Ravi Shastri commands the scene, like Tony Greig once used to, voice rising with the arc of the shot: "Oh he's climbed into it, WHAT A SOUND!"
Listen to that sound, a tock, unthreatening and benign as sounds go, like a table tennis pong. Except amplified. As sweet and pure and clean now, through the TV, on your phone, laptop or whatever device, as it was heard that day at Eden Gardens live.
You know what that sound is? It is the sound of modern batting, the kind of batting the absence of which Pakistani fans have been lamenting since forever. It is the sound of the IPL. It is the sound of white-ball batting in India, with its pristine pitches and outfields, and small boundaries.
It is a sound that stops dead stats like that one about Pakistan not having hit a six in 1100 powerplay deliveries this year. Hit one of those and those 1100 balls are kaput. It is a sound that, in an instant, turns the despair of 230 million people into the dreams of 230 million people.
That one sound came off the bat of Fakhar Zaman and thanks for coming Taskin Ahmed. He smiled afterwards because it was the sweetest sound. It was a ludicrous six really, a swipe across a perfectly reasonable delivery, front leg cleared, foot pointing to mid-off, back leg bent but also a little splayed, the kind of position which, had he been horizontal, you could draw a chalk outline around and call it a victim.
It was a six that best represents Fakhar Zaman as he exists in the Pakistani imagination, a man capable of conjuring a six out of nothing; the only power-hitting, firestarter opener in this squad, capable of the kind of big, skyscraper batting mayhem of the Rohits and the Warners; capable of exactly the kind of batting that he produced today at the Chinaswammy, a fever dream of six-hitting so vivid no amount of waking up will ever dilute it.
It's almost as if the unreality of his unbeaten 126 needs grounding, because what is it if not unreal? You might be tempted to start talking about the greatest Pakistani innings but it's far too early for that kind of order to be placed on this. This, let's spell this out, is an innings that meant Pakistan not only won a curtailed match in which they conceded 401, but also a match in which, halfway through the chase, they were looking on course to chase down the full total.
This might help grasp some of the scale of it. Fakhar hit more sixes in the one innings today than any Pakistani batter has through an entire World Cup campaign. This one, meanwhile, will blow your mind all over again. Shahid Afridi is Pakistan's most celebrated six-hitter, right? Until today, no Pakistani had hit more sixes in World Cups than him. He hit 12 across five World Cups and 16 years; Fakhar hit 11 today in comfortably under two hours. He hit as many sixes today as Imam-ul-Haq, the man he replaced in the last game, hit in his last 24 ODI innings.
And finally, only Eoin Morgan, Chris Gayle and Martin Guptill - a fairly elite roll call of six-hitters - have ever hit more sixes in a single World Cup innings.
But what also helps in grounding this, what's as important to understand is that the way Fakhar played today might be how people think Fakhar plays or how they want him to play, but it is not really the way he does play in practice. No question, Fakhar has long been the one man who raises the ceiling of this Pakistan's totals. He also bats big. Before the World Cup, Pakistan had scored 330-plus 12 times in ODIs since Fakhar's debut. He'd hit four hundreds and three fifties in those games, averaging 92.30 with a strike rate of 114.80. When Pakistan do modern, Fakhar is invariably at the heart of it.
And though the comparison with Imam on the sixes hit is stark, it is unfair. Dropping Fakhar after the first game against Netherlands was not unjustified, so out of sorts was he beginning to look. There were suggestions he himself was at peace with being left out.
But the 81 on return against Bangladesh was a more accurate representation of what Fakhar is. Despite hitting seven sixes in that innings, for instance, he finished with a strike rate of 109, which, for a sub-100 innings with at least seven sixes, is the third-lowest ever. And despite that six early on, he was still only 30 off 33 balls after the powerplay, not a world away from his career strike rate in that phase (until that game) of 81.69. Those numbers trend closer to the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and the old Rohit Sharma, which, by the way, is not in any way a bad thing.
It's important to understand all this though because it only serves to highlight the outlandishness of his innings today, an outlier really in his canon. He was 43 off 28 at the end of the powerplay today, nearly twice his usual strike rate across that phase (and joint-most he's ever hit in that phase). His fastest ODI hundred before this was off a relatively sedate 83 balls; forget Basit Ali and Ijaz Ahmed in the 1990s, even Zaheer Abbas in the 1980s had three hundreds quicker than that. If you tack on the sixes from the Bangladesh game to today's, he's hit nearly a third of the sixes he had hit in his entire ODI career in just the last two innings (18 in the last two and 56 before). In powerplays, he's hit nearly half (six in the last two and 14 before).
You've come this far now, a few hours out, and still perhaps it doesn't feel real. The unrelenting nature of the assault, of not thinking one six in an over was ever enough, the vastness of those hits, the calculated targeting of bowlers and parts of the ground, of a Pakistani batter living up to the traditions demanded by the Chinnaswamy.
And so, it's probably best to ground yourself in that sound, the clean, sweet sound of those hits. A sound, above all, that allows you to believe.
Believe in what you ask? Qudrat ka nizam? Haal? 1992? One minute down, next minute up? This team? That captain? Those bowlers? The board (ROFL). Change? Evolution? Success? It doesn't really matter. Believe in whatever you can hold on to now.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo