Zaman's big game prowess pleases Sarfraz

When Pakistan were set a daunting 184-run target in the final of the tri-nation series to win their ninth consecutive series, it was certain that one of their top-order batsmen had to lay solid foundations for the run chase. After all, there is a reason a great emphasis is laid on taking wickets in the powerplay overs. Quick wickets early on translate into humongous pressure on the middle-order which lead often lead to collapses of epic proportions.

Pakistan found themselves in such a quagmire when Glenn Maxwell picked two wickets in the first over to remove debutant Sahibzada Farhan and Hussain Talat. But, Fakhar Zaman launched a counter-attack with his captain Sarfraz Ahmed in the next Maxwell over, in which they struck three fours and a six, to bring Pakistan back into the contest.

As Sarfraz started to look good, finding the gaps and hitting boundaries at will, he was run out in the last powerplay over while attempting to pick up a third run. But, Zaman remained unfazed and launched another counter-attack an over later as he struck a six and a four on the first two balls of Marcus Stoinis’ first over. From that point, he decimated the Aussie bowling lineup as he moved prodigiously in the crease to alter the line and length to his liking and pick up the boundaries all around the dial that perfectly underscored his dominance over the opposition bowlers.

“Nowadays he is in the best form of his life,” Sarfraz said of Zaman, who helped Pakistan register their highest successful T20I run chase with his 46-ball 91. “The way he batted in the tournament it was good for us and it is good for his career. If he continues to play like this then he will definitely go up and up.”

Zaman entered in the contest at the back of his then career-best 73 against the same opposition. It may have gone down as a dress-rehearsal for the triangular series final, but for Pakistan, the contest was more than just a dead-rubber as Sarfraz’s men put in their efforts to ensure they retain the number one spot in the ICC T20I rankings.

“He [Zaman] looks like a big game player and he is getting better day by day,” Sarfraz said as he continued to praise the 28-year-old who hit three fifties in five matches, scoring 278 runs, a record for the most runs in a series for Pakistan, at an average of 55.60. “He is performing on consistent basis. He is performing in the big games. He performed in the ICC Champions Trophy final and scored hundred. When we played against New Zealand, he scored a 50-odd at Wellington [Auckland]. He then again scored 40 something [in the third T20I].”

Pakistan veered from one extreme to another against Australia over the past week as they were on the receiving end of a heavy drubbing on Monday and then outclassed Aaron Finch’s men two days later. Sarfraz made sure to praise his side for staging a remarkable comeback in the series. “It is not easy to win against Australia. They know how to play T20 cricket. It is not easy to chase 184 runs against an Australian bowling lineup. They have a very good pace attack. The credit goes to my boys, they played really well.”

Sarfraz had been vocal in the criticism of his bowlers, especially after they conceded 162 against Zimbabwe. But, today, he cut them some slack, despite not getting a wicket till the penultimate ball of the 10th over. Australia, by then, cruised at 95-0. But, Pakistan made a strong comeback to restrict Australia under 200 and picked up six wickets for 46 runs in the last five overs.

“If you see we bowled really well in the first six overs,” Sarfraz said. “There were a couple of top-edges which went for third-man boundaries. There was some bad bowling, but we bowled okay. If you see our death bowling, we finished very well.”

Pakistan will stay in Zimbabwe for a five-match ODI series against the hosts at Bulawayo, which begins from July 13. Even though Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the ICC World Cup next year and their top players will continue to be away from the squad, there’s no room for complacency in a dressing room with Sarfraz as captain. “One-day series is very important. It is not easy to play Zimbabwe in their home conditions. The toss will be important due to early start and the weather is more cold in Bulawayo. It is not going to be an easy series.”

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