Pakistan 399 for 1 (Fakhar 210*, Imam 113, Asif Ali 50*) v Zimbabwe
Who knew there were so many layers to rock bottom? In every game this series, it has appeared it couldn’t get any worse for Zimbabwe, or easier for Pakistan. It seemed impossible there could be a nadir beyond what transpired in the third ODI, with Pakistan bowling Zimbabwe out for 67 and chasing it down in 9.5 overs. But the chasm grows wider by the game.
On Friday, after winning the toss and batting, Pakistan began to put statisticians on notice around the world, plundering 399 runs – their highest ODI total – with Fakhar Zaman making a brutally destructive 210 not out off just 156 balls. Along with Imam-ul-Haq, who made 113, Fakhar smashed a slew of records against – it has to be said – a poor, second-string Zimbabwean side who had a terrible day in the field. Even so, their powers of concentration, their hunger for runs, and refusal to be complacent hint at traits even the best batsmen in any generation struggle to master.
The two brought up their third hundred partnership in four games, and once more, there never seemed to be any hint of a wicket-taking threat in the hosts’ lineup. Even Blessing Muzarabani, far and away Zimbabwe’s best bowler in the last two series, was strangely erratic, and with no bowler pitching the ball consistently in good areas, there was no pressure on the openers.
Whenever they wanted, the picked up the pace. If they so desired, they brought it back down again. When they felt it was time for a boundary, they struck one. Zimbabwe’s bowling, their fielding plans, or any bowling changes the poor Hamilton Masakadza could have made simply didn’t factor into their plans. The control was completely in the batsman’s hands, and you felt if they so desired, they could have gone for well over 400 instead of the (still almost certainly insurmountable) exact 400 they set Zimbabwe to win.
Fakhar brought up his third ODI hundred in the 31st over, carving Wellington Masakadza away between cover and point to the boundary. Two balls later, he muscled the bowler over wide long on for six, serving everyone notice he was about to properly cut loose. And cut loose he did.
At some point, it becomes churlish to harp on about the lamentable performance from the hosts, so if you wanted uplifting, you needed ignore what went on at the bowler’s end and simply watch Fakhar playing like a child on his favourite ride in Disneyland. Without a care in the world, the left-hander batted like Friday was the day he had given up on everything else to become a cricketer.
It could not get easier, or more fun. After he had raced to 150, he was standing well outside off, exposing all three stumps, to open up that midwicket area. Nothing the bowlers did provided him any semblance of a challenge, and as he bolted along, it became obvious Saeed Anwar’s 24-year record – the highest score for a Pakistan batsman in ODIs was under serious threat. A hoick to midwicket (where else?) for four knocked Anwar off that perch, to be replaced by this 21st century left-handed opener. A few balls later, he had become the eight man to reach 200, getting there off just 147 balls.
Meanwhile, Imam, by no means sedate but made to look so by Fakhar, brought up his third century in just his eighth ODI as Pakistan’s opening partnership left record after record tumbling in their wake. The highest opening partnership in Pakistan history? Gone. The highest opening partnership for any country in ODI history? See you later. The first 300-run opening partnership? Easy peasy.
Pakistan had made 304 in 42 overs before they had a wicket, Imam out to a failed slog on the leg side; Zimbabwe had avoided the ignominy of becoming the first side in history to go wicketless right through an innings. But that brought the explosive Asif Ali to the crease, and he, along with Fakhar batting like a man possessed, pillaged 90 runs off the last eight overs. By this time, Asif had taken over from Fakhar, and found enough time to bludgeon 50 off 22 balls, and helping bring up Pakistan’s highest ODI total.
It is dominance like you rarely see in an ODI between Full Members. And it’s only halfway through yet.