In any format, opening the innings is the most difficult job in cricket. Openers need great judgment, a solid defence, concentration and expertise in facing short balls.
Opening has been the weakest area for Pakistan for a very long time. Since the retirement of Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail, we have got no solid pair to open the innings.
We have tried more than 15 opening combinations since 2010 and only Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar, who played 35 Test innings together, provided some stability.
Taufeeq has been out of sight for a long time. Hafeez is a regular part of the national team, but now he bats in the lower order.
He was paired with nine batsmen since Misbah-ul-Haq took over the captaincy in 2010. Only in the last two years, the management tried nine opening batsmen, but the opening slot remained as uncertain as ever.
Among the current players, only Azhar Ali has a permanent place as an opener. The selectors tried Nasir Jamshed, Sherjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad, but no one managed to confirm his place.
Nasir and Sharjeel could have served for a long time but their alleged illegal activities put them under suspension.
In the ongoing Champions Trophy in England, after failure of Ahmed Shehzad in the first match against arch-rivals India, the management gave a chance to young left-hand opener Fakhar Zaman. He has made full use of the opportunity and scored 31, 50 and 57 against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England, respectively.
Young fast bowler Hassan Ali and Fakhar have played vital roles in helping the team qualify for the Champions Trophy final. Hassan Ali before the final was the leading wicket-taker of the trophy with 10 wickets.
Fakhar, 27, belongs to Younis Khan’s district Mardan. He was selected for the Champions Trophy due to his consistent performance in domestic circuit and for Pakistan A.
The captain and the coach should give confidence to youngsters that they will play the whole series and will not be excluded if they are dismissed cheaply in a match or two.
Fakhar has the potential to handle pressure and play his natural game. He showed his talent in all the three matches, each of which was virtually a knockout match.
After playing just three ODIs, he has gained fame across the cricket world and received applause from such former cricketers as Michael Vaughan and Stephen Fleming.
Vaughan wrote in his tweet: “Where has Fakhar been hiding? He looks like a marvelous striker of a ball!”
Fleming said: “Question has to be asked — where has this Fakhar been hiding?”
His skills and nerves are to be tested in the Champions Trophy final against India today. If he and Azhar provide an opening stand as they did in the semi-final against England, Pakistan’s chances to create history by lifting their first-ever Champions Trophy will be bright.
Fakhar was one of the three debutants in the Champions Trophy, the other two being all-rounder Fahim Ashraf and medium fast bowler Rumman Raees. Both the bowlers also impressed the cricket greats with their first performances.
Fakhar scored 170 for his team Habib Bank against WAPDA in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final in December last year. With the other opener Imam-ul-Haq, he provided a 303 runs opening stand. Overall he scored 663 runs in eight matches at an average of 51, hitting two hundreds and three fifties.
The left-handed batsman was the second-highest run-scorer in the Pakistan Cup with 297 runs in five innings at an average of 59.40. His 115 set up Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s 151-run win in the final.
In January last year, playing for Pakistan A against England Lions in Dubai, Fakhar claimed 5-27 with his left-arm spin bowling and also scored 62 off 65 balls to help Pakistan win.
If the coaches guide him properly, he could be the next Saeed Anwar for Pakistan’s fragile batting.