Fakhar Zaman: The best cricket is Test cricket

“White-ball cricket is there and popular, but Test cricket is the cricket,” says Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman.

Fakhar Zaman's 114 against India at the Oval in the Champions Trophy in 2017 came in only his fourth ODI match. "I am often asked about that innings by so many people...," he says. "It is memorable because it helped us win the Champions Trophy."   -  Getty Images

For Pakistan, Fakhar Zaman, a left-handed dynamite, is as critical as skipper Babar Azam. In the three years since his debut, the 31-year-old has played just three Tests but more than 50 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). Zaman is the fastest to reach 1,000 runs (in 18 matches) in ODIs and holds the record of the maximum fours in the 50-over format, 24, during his knock of 210 not out against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 2018.

Zaman was spotted by Nadim Khan when playing tennis-ball cricket in Mardan district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Nurtured to make his first-class debut at 23, he is considered one of the most exciting batsmen in the international circuit.

Zaman spoke to Sportstar in an exclusive interview to discuss various aspects of his career.

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What do you remember the most of your two quality knocks of 94 and 66 against Australia in Abu Dhabi in 2018?

My first Test. Some great memories. Every player dreams of playing Test cricket. White-ball cricket is there and popular, but Test cricket is the cricket. I can vividly remember my debut Test. I wish I had got a century on Test debut. Never mind. But I am happy I scored those runs in tough situations in both the innings. I could construct a partnership with Sarfraz (Ahmed) bhai and we went on to win the Test. It felt nice to have performed in a Test match and that too on my debut. I have played only three Tests but can tell you that the best cricket is Test cricket.

Your 114 against India at the Oval in the Champions Trophy in 2017 came in only your fourth ODI match. How much did it help you in establishing your place, because it created a huge win for Pakistan?

I am often asked about that innings by so many people. I joke with them to let it go now since it came long ago. People recognised me, but honestly I won’t count that as one of my best innings. It is not my best as many believe. It is memorable because it helped us win the Champions Trophy. We could overcome a strong Indian team which was winning all its matches in a one-sided fashion.

Which innings would then be your best innings?

My debut knock of 31 in the same tournament against South Africa. I loved that innings. There was an innings against New Zealand (82 not out) at Wellington (2018) that I really enjoyed.

The pitches you get in South Africa and England suit my game, says Fakhar Zaman.   -  Getty Images


How was the experience of playing a major role in helping Pakistan win the Champions Trophy?

It became special because my innings helped Pakistan win an ICC (International Cricket Council) event after a long, long time. That innings gave my team the position to dictate from. That innings gave a boost to my career at the start itself. That win gave joy to the nation and that is it.

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Your performance during the South Africa ODI series was quite remarkable. Did you adopt a different approach there or was it just that you were playing to the merit of the opposition?

Honestly, the pitches you get in South Africa and England suit my game. I was prepared for South Africa keeping in mind the pitches were likely to greet us. My mindset was tuned to be patient. I had told myself to take time to decide the course. The new ball in South Africa can really trouble you and it is important that you hang in for seven to eight overs. It helped you to get your runs. I kept telling myself not to play any risky shots in the beginning of the innings and then play my natural game.

You are the fastest man to 1,000 runs in ODI history, and yet you have had a topsy-turvy international career thus far. Are you in a far better mental space now compared to earlier?

Absolutely. I will blame myself. After 18 innings, you score 1,000 runs and then I could not be consistent. There was a brief phase of not making runs and the fault lies with me only. I was working hard, but my mindset was not the same. I would look to hit the ball from the word go, but I changed my approach.

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With cricket having come to a standstill because of the COVID-19 pandemic, players have had to get used to the new normal of being at home, not playing and waiting for things to change. How did you deal with the enforced break and did it help you in any way?

I tried to stay safe and kept the health protocols in mind. It was tough, but I followed the instructions of the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board). We were careful during the camps. Certain things may not be in our control, but we have to understand what is best for the team. We kept the SOPs (standard operating procedures) in mind all the time. As a professional, you have to learn and fight.

Do you feel more pressure when playing for a franchise?

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 a franchise, it is slightly different. There are only 10 matches and they expect you to perform every time you go out to play. The pressure just keeps increasing. They expect that at each match you will perform. And then the fans expect a lot.

How is the competition in the Pakistan Super League (PSL)?

The competition is stiff. There are six teams and the bowling standards can match any attack from any team in the other leagues of the world. Believe me, there is not much difference really. The PSL standard is overall very high. In Pakistan, 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.

How does the PSL help cricket grow in Pakistan?

The PSL has had a profound impact on the game in Pakistan. It helps the youngsters come into focus. It helps them financially. The emerging players, the under-19 ones, look forward to getting 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 the PSL. It would be correct to say that everyone connected with cricket has gained by being involved in the PSL.

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Your views on Lahore Qalandars…

Franchise cricket has new players added to the team every year. Lahore Qalandars are like a family for us. When I go back, I have access to the high-performance centre established by the franchise. I can stay there for the whole year. In fact, emerging players can go there and learn cricket the whole year and prepare for the PSL. The franchise looks after us well and works at the grassroots level, too.

What kind of technical adjustments do you make when playing Test matches after so much white-ball cricket?

You have to adjust. When I was picked initially, it was on the basis of four-day performances in domestic cricket. That was a valuable experience. At the international level, you have to remember that as a professional cricketer you have to learn to adapt and perform. I back my instincts to succeed against the best. I don’t look to make any technical changes. In Test cricket, you have to look at the pitches and the field placements. I started with Test cricket in Abu Dhabi and then played in South Africa. In all, I have played three Tests, so there’s not much need to look at making technical changes.

“I can vividly remember my debut Test,” says Fakhar Zaman, who scored 94 and 66 against Australia in Abu Dhabi in 2018. “I wish I had got a century on Test debut.”   -  Getty Images


Who is your favourite cricketer and why?

My favourite cricketers have always been Adam Gilchrist and A. B. de Villiers. In fact, AB stands out the way he has been performing. AB played with us in Lahore Qalandars one season and I had a couple of partnerships with him. He is my all-time favourite cricketer and I have always enjoyed his batting. I don’t miss his matches.

Your favourite coach...

Micky Arthur was a good coach and mentor with the Pakistan team, not just for me, but for others like Babar (Azam). He has helped us grow. I stay in contact with him. Locally, my coach (Nadim Khan) saw me in a match and took me to the Pakistan Navy team. He helped me a lot. He has been a big influence.

What lessons did you learn at Glamorgan?

I have always loved playing in England. It is very challenging. There is support for the batsmen and bowlers. I was not that successful, but I learnt a lot. I would love to go back to Glamorgan and perform for them.

If you could change anything about Pakistan cricket, what would it be in terms of cricket competitions. (not to do with the administration)?

If we can have a backup force like the A team, which can travel regularly. I would love to have the A team to keep the replacements ready.