Fakhar’s first day out in Tests

Fakhar’s first day out in Tests PHOTO COURTESY: PCB

While all others were overambitious or hopelessly lethargic, one man stood still as Nathan Lyon ripped apart Pakistan’s batting line-up — four wickets in a span of six balls if stats are needed.

Face disallowed to display any emotions, more like presenting Australia with a poker face, an attempt to not let the Baggy Greens peek into his fears and fragilities.

Lips dry, but kept hydrated enough courtesy constant licking — can’t show the mighty Kangaroos any signs of weakness. Otherwise, they grow on you, push you back, play with your insecurities and eventually break you. They like to play with the opponent’s mind, they’re trained to win the psychological battles and when that’s done, victories usually fall into their laps.

But a constant reminder of not succumbing to one’s instinct was also needed. A shake of head is in place after every ball faced; a cue that this is Test cricket, and not a limited-overs contest. This format demands perseverance, to not crack under pressure, to play with a blithe attitude, as if nothing affects him, nothing can cause him to stutter even after being beaten by seam and spin on more than one occasion.

However, the Australians are good at reading personalities too.

They know he likes to hit the ball more often than not. They know he won’t just shoulder the outgoing deliveries, the wide ones on off, which usually end up on the boundary in limited-overs.

They know he is an unorthodox operator with the bat. A lot of his shots are not classy, still they are effective. They have been a constant source of runs for him.

They offered him pace, he likes pace, but was beaten by Mitchell Starc’s and Mitchell Marsh’s outgoing deliveries. It seamed or swung? Who cares? Australia wanted him to wither under pressure, they don’t want him to nurture under it.

They offered him sweeping opportunities, they know by virtue of being a Pakistani batsman he will get down on one knee and sweep the spinners when other options fail. He did so, but a sweeper at short fine leg was in place. On one occasion he nearly missed it, saved by the toe-end of the bat. Lyon saw that, he was watching very carefully.

But all was not wrong; he was successful while driving straight past the bowler and when he was asked to cut a length ball. Boundaries came as hope and as reassurance that he wasn’t here because there was no other better option, he was here because he deserved a go at it, at Test cricket.

Because he was a product of four-day cricket, he had the skill to endure the privations of the five-day format, and throwing him at the deep end helped him resurface as a new him. Telling him to face a lethal Starc first up was risky, but he knew if he survived that, he would extract a life-long self-assurance from it.

Things did not seem to go as planned. His partners writhed and struggled on a first day pitch at Abu Dhabi, but he didn’t falter, more so because he couldn’t afford that luxury, but also because everyone had their eyes stuck on him. Will he or will he not? Surely now they have their answer.

Fakhar Zaman’s transformation into a Test opener, on his debut, on a pitch where everyone else than him struggled, was not easy; it was edgy, full of anxiety, lacking technique, but there is no arguing that it was complete.