What’s the story?
Fakhar Zaman, the Pakistan opening batsman, who rose to prominence through his match-winning century against India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final, has revealed an inspiring tale elucidating how he overcame domestic bullying and forced his way into the Pakistan team.
In a conversation with AFP, Zaman said that he was banned from playing cricket in his native village because he was deemed to be ‘too good’ and was a ‘hardball’ player. Zaman’s brother, Asif, mentioned that he used to beat up his younger brother for playing cricket, a move that he now regrets.
Having been given a hero’s welcome upon his return from London, even as nobody was aware of the 27-year-old’s talent until before the Champions Trophy, Zaman said that it took some time for the feeling to sink in.
“I did not feel much at that time,” Fakhar told AFP about Sunday’s final at the Oval.
“Then I came here, and people started coming here... They all are giving me love, so now I feel that I have done some great heroics.”
This landmark victory in Pakistan’s cricket history, in that it was their first 50-over ICC tournament win since the 1992 World Cup in Australia, has engulfed the nation in a wave of celebration, and understandably so, given that it is their first ICC trophy in eight years after they’d won the ICC World T20 2009.
However, as can be said of Pakistan cricket at large, things weren’t always this glorious for Zaman, who recalled that he was once refused from participating in local cricket games.
“I played one or two hard-ball matches in school and scored some runs. I then became popular in the whole region and people used to say wherever I went that, 'He is a hard-ball player, don't play with him,” he said.
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Pakistan defeated India in the final of the Champions Trophy 2017 by 180 runs, riding on Zaman’s 114 off just 106 balls, and Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali’s three-wicket-hauls.
Responding to Pakistan’s 338/4, the Indian batsmen crumbled under the pressure exerted by the Pakistani bowlers and the pressure of chasing a big total in a final and were bowled out for 158.
Being denied entry into local cricketing circles wasn’t the only hardship that came Zaman’s way. Asif, his brother, while admitting to his mistake of beating him up for playing cricket lauded Zaman for never giving up.
“But he never quit cricket and has become a hero today. He has become a Lord for us,” Asif added.
The cricketer also served in the Pakistan Navy for a brief period of time in 2007, a move that he now relishes and accredits as the reason behind his success in international cricket.
“Joining the Pakistan Navy was the biggest turning point in my career,” Zaman said.
After being recruited in the Navy as a sailor, Zaman participated in a forces tournament where Navy coach Nazim Khan spotted him as a prodigy. It was his coach who recommended him to quit the forces and play cricket full-time.
Zaman’s performance with the Lahore Qalanders franchise of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2017 made selectors take notice of what they couldn’t over the past five years when he toiled in the domestic circuit.
He received his maiden international call in March this year for the T20 series against the West Indies.
Adversities certainly bring out the best out of determined men, and Zaman’s story is inspirational not just for the cricketers of his legion but also for the citizens of his war-troubled country.
The vantage point came as late as the age of 27 in his career when most cricketers reach their prime, but that it came and given that Zaman seized the opportunity is good news for Pakistan cricket.
Following Sharjeel Khan’s involvement in corrupt practices, Zaman has come in as an ideal replacement, and Pakistan must nurture and protect him, both on and off the field.