“At this level, there are always ups and downs,” he said after his century. “The Asia Cup didn’t go well for me. I had a highest of 30? . It wasn’t a good time. I went over to Peshawar to work with Aftab Khan [Pakistan’s fielding coach] at his academy. He’d pointed out my weakness against offspin. He was an offspinner, so I worked a lot with him.”
Yet when Fakhar went through a string of low scores in the lead-up to the World Cup – 11 innings without a half-century – there had been a growing pressure on him to emerge from a rut which got magnified that much more with every passing day.
If the pressure of performance was tough enough to contend with, Fakhar injured his knee at training one game into the 2023 World Cup. It meant two weeks on the sidelines. Fakhar kept the faith in his abilities and has now racked up scores of 81 and 126* in two match-winning performances that has kept Pakistan alive.
“Every player who performs says ‘I did this, I did that’. But when I had the time off [after the Asia Cup], I didn’t rest,” Fakhar said. “I was at home for just two days and then I went straight to Peshawar to train. I want to dedicate this performance to Aftab Khan.”
Fakhar was a tad emotional at this point, but he wasn’t being generic in praising his coaches because he had to. There seemed to be a genuine sense of gratitude and warmth that stemmed from an acceptance that he had a few areas to work on.
“The things he’s shared with me, the time he’s given me – not many people give you that kind of dedication. You need such people. When performances happen, the hard work is seen. When you don’t, it’s not seen. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t put in the work.”
Fakhar then elaborated on Pakistan’s methods towards trying to scale down New Zealand’s 402. They decided to “play properly” for the first four overs and then take the attack to the bowlers. It’s within these four overs that he and Babar Azam decided to step up and “be ahead of the target at all times.”
“The wicket was very good, there was no turn, nothing,” Fakhar said. “Rain was at the back of our mind. We knew [of the forecast] from yesterday. That’s why after 15 overs, we [Babar and himself] went a message upstairs to the management to give us the target for 20 overs.
“We wanted to try and make it up [in those five overs]. At this level, planning is important. It’s difficult otherwise. We had planned for this. So when we got 10 runs ahead, close to the 20th over, we played out [Trent] Boult because we knew we were well ahead.”
Fakhar praised the team management for resonating “positivity at all times”, even when they went on a downward spiral after two opening wins. There’s belief in the camp now. And there’s a sense of “rhythm” that he feels has the potential to get them on a roll. Of course with some luck from a few other results.
“The good thing about this team management is they always stay positive, they never show us that we’re out of it, they back each and every player,” Fakhar said. “We believe we can make the semi-finals, maybe even the final. We’re closely going to watch the Sri Lanka-New Zealand game. We are hopeful.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo