No.1 in our countdown of the best ODI innings of 2017, it’s Fakhar Zaman’s incredible match-winning hundred for Pakistan in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy.
Fakhar Zaman: 114 (106b, 12x4s, 3x6s), ICC Champions Trophy Final v India, The Oval, 18 June
In 2015 Pakistan sat eighth in the ICC rankings, which determined who would make up the eight participants of the Champions Trophy, and requested that their ODI series against Zimbabwe be delayed so that any losses – and lost ranking points – would come after the October 1 cut-off date. They then proceeded to lose the second ODI of the series and were momentarily shunted down to ninth, but three days too late for West Indies in whose place they qualified.
Coming into the competition Fakhar Zaman was yet to make his ODI debut, and was behind Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in the pecking order, but when the latter failed a fitness test, and the former paid the price for an opening-game humbling by India, he was thrust into the opening slot for their second game against South Africa.
Fakhar batted Pakistan to a dominant position
Then, having looked in good touch coming into the final, Zaman almost departed without making his mark, nicking behind only to be reprieved when it was revealed that Jasprit Bumrah had overstepped.
All of which is to say that in so many ways, this innings should not have happened. But so nearly not happening in so many ways only made it all the sweeter that it did, as Zaman hoicked, swatted and flayed India to all corners of The Oval.
Coming against India made the knock that much more special too, not just because of the storied and frenzied rivalry, but because of the thrashing Pakistan had received at their hands to start their tournament.
Zaman’s story is Pakistan’s in miniature, and they too shouldn’t have won the Champions Trophy, if things like form and having a settled XI are any indication. Apart from the droppings and sendings-home, there was Azhar Ali, who was removed as captain and dropped mere months before the tournament, before being recalled for its opening game, an unfit attack leader in Wahab Riaz, and a series record against other teams in the tournament that read 0-4 going back to the middle of 2015.
This seemed a team in disarray, still reeling from the dual-retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, even if those did come in Test cricket, and playing old-fashioned ODI cricket in a more modern era, scoring 250 when 350 would be par, and trying to contain teams with the ball rather than blast them.
All that changed over the course of three glorious weeks, capped off by this special hundred at The Oval. With ball and in spirit Pakistan were led by Hasan Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed, who displayed all the pro-activity and wicket-taking desire this format now necessitates. And with bat it was Zaman, swinging without care and giving his side the impetus they have been craving.
There were bigger hundreds this year, quicker hundreds, and hundreds which came in far more unlikely match situations. But no ODI hundred meant as much as this one, when a down-trodden team stood up to win a tournament they had no right to, led by a player who shouldn’t even have been there.