Indians fans would remember Fakhar Zaman. His 114 against India at The Oval in 2017 was only his fourth ODI. That knock helped Pakistan win the ICC Champions Trophy and established the left-hander as a star in the making. The batsman with a high back lift and an impressive repertoire of strokes is very measured in his responses. He possesses a high cricketing acumen as he speaks of the importance of that innings against India and the upcoming Pakistan Super League (PSL).
At 31, Zaman brings youthful experience to the crease. A double century (210 not out) against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 2018 was nearly repeated at Johannesburg against South Africa in April this year when he smashed a breathtaking 193. He signed off the tour with a 101 in the next match. Such consistency marked his Test debut when he made 94 and 66 against Australia at Abu Dhabi in 2018.
Abu Dhabi is the venue again as Zaman, as part of the Lahore Qalandars team, leads the campaign on a high note. “Abu Dhabi will support our fast bowlers. We are well-prepared and have a strong combination. Our chances are bright,” he told Sportstar in a chat from the venue ahead of the PSL match against Islamabad United.
“Franchise cricket has new players added to the team every year. Lahore Qalandars is like a family for us. When I go back, I have access to the High Performance Centre established by the francise. I can stay there for the whole year. In fact, emerging players can go there and learn cricket the whole year and prepare for jest the PSL. The Franchise looks after us well, works at the grass root level too. “
Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman during the second ODI against South Africa. – AP
In Zaman’s opinion, the staging of the PSL after it was halted due to a bio-bubble breach in Pakistan will be good for the game in his country. “It is a big relief that it is happening. We wait for the PSL the entire year. We discuss the tournament and the likely teams. The PSL has a special place in our hearts. We all know things have been tough but we all prayed for the PSL to happen. We are now really excited it is starting.”
Like most players feel for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the PSL, insisted Zaman, is no less important for a cricketer in Pakistan. “It is very significant in our lives. When there was no PSL, I was playing domestic cricket but the coverage (in media) was not as we would have desired. But once I played the PSL, even though I had no exceptional performance in my first season, I kind of became well known. It means a lot for the new comers wanting to make a mark. The PSL is very good for the youngsters.”
Zaman also noted, “The PSL helps the youngsters come into focus. It helps them financially. The emerging players, the under-19 ones, look forward to get a spot in the PSL because it fetches them financial rewards. They also get professional grooming in the company of the senior players. Even the coaches are in demand because of of the PSL. It would be correct to say that everyone connected with cricket has gained by being involved in the PSL.”
File picture of Fakhar Zaman. – AP
For Zaman, the pandemic pushed him into a situation where focus was on keeping himself relevant by constant training. “To tell the truth, matched have been reduced but not the nets sessions. We have time on our hand now and concentrate on nets and training. We have been training in Peshawar more because we get time to work on our game and get rid of the weaknesses. We do miss the international matches but then we have not allowed that to impact our game.”
The competition in the PSL, Zaman emphasized, was “strong” and ever-improving. “The competition is stiff. There are six teams and the bowling standards can match any attack from any team in other leagues of the world. Believe me, there is not much difference really. The PSL standard is overall very high. In Pakistan, the domestic cricket has been reduced from 18 to six but the competition has increased manifold. Anyone playing in any domestic team is talented enough to represent Pakistan.”
On his association with Lahore Qalandars and the pressure that comes from playing for a Franchise team, Zaman said, “The pressure is enormous. When you play for the country you feel that pressure too. I know I will be playing for Pakistan if I keep performing. In the franchise, it is slightly different. There are only ten matches and they expect you to perform every time you go out to play. The pressure just keeps increasing. They expect that each match you will perform. And then the fans expect a lot.”
Going back to that 114 against India, the affable Zaman was firm. “It is not my best innings as many may believe and conclude. My 31 on debut is the one I cherish because of the conditions.” Zaman, rated high by critics and former players, will be the one to watch at this PSL, for he believes in giving his best and as he concluded, “PSL is a great stage.”