Cardiff: When Pakistan lost the availability of Sharjeel Khan to circumstances which can only be described as unacceptable, Pakistani cricket it appeared was left to pick up the pieces of another promising cricketing career going to waste. Whilst Sharjeel’s alleged spot-fixing matter is still being dealt with by the Pakistan Cricket Board, his place in the Pakistan top order has been grabbed with aplomb by another left-handed hard-hitting batsman. Fakhar Zaman is a name that will not have been known to many outside Pakistan ahead of the Champions Trophy, but it is now a name that is on the lips of cricket observers around the world.

Brought into the team to replace the out-of-form Ahmed Shehzad, 27-year-old Zaman has made the most of this opportunity. Displaying flair, aggression, and showing little respect for the opposition bowlers, Zaman has added an ingredient that was lacking in Pakistan’s openers. His fearless approach to batting has brought smiles to Pakistani cricket-lovers around the globe.

Speaking after the nerve-wracking three-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, Fakhar explained that his role in the Pakistan batting line-up is one which allows him to play a free hand. “The captain and coach have not sat down with me and given me a specific role or told me to bat in a specific way, I go out there and just play my natural game, which is the way I have always played. I am a natural stroke-maker and that’s the way that I have played right from the start of my career,” Zaman said.

“The coach has not said that I need to score a specific number of runs or set me any targets and that works well for me as I don’t have pressure on me to bat a specific way. They have just told me to play each ball on merit and play my natural game,” he added.

Zaman’s scores of 31 against South Africa and 50 against Sri Lanka set the tone for Pakistan and got them off on both occasions to the type of start they have been missing in recent times. The Pakistan ODI batting line-up has received scathing criticism for its outdated approach and Zaman’s introduction has provided the team with something different in terms of approach. However he believes that the Pakistan batting order does not deserve the criticism it has received.

“We have a good blend of youth and experience in the batting line-up and we gel well as a unit. Yes it’s been tough at times but I have full faith in my colleagues to come good when needed and make it count. Experience can be an invaluable in big tournaments like the Champions Trophy and the experienced guys are a great help to younger and inexperienced players like myself,” Zaman said from the sidelines in United Kingdom.

Born in Mardan, where Younis Khan was born, Zaman has worked his way to international cricket with steady performances in domestic cricket culminating in a very good Pakistan Super League earlier this year. He was also part of the Pakistan A squad that toured England last year and believes that his grooming in domestic cricket has helped him settle into international cricket. “Yes it’s early days and there is a long way to go, but when you have a few years of domestic cricket under your belt that always helps when you arrive in international cricket. I’ve had good and bad days, good times and tough times in domestic cricket so that sets you up nicely when your chance finally arrives for your country. My chance has come and I want to grab it with both hands,” Zaman said.

His scores may have given Pakistan good starts at the Champions Trophy but an expectant fan-base wants more from him, which is something he accepts. “Every batsman has the desire to score a hundred in every game and even I wished the same for myself. But, then I am a stroke-player and I got a good ball against Sri Lanka which got me out which was unfortunate, but playing longer innings is something I am working on,” Zaman said.

With favourites England the next opponent for Pakistan, Zaman will have his work cut out against Eoin Morgan and his very confident men. However he believes that no team can be written off any given day. “The plan is not to panic and to play to our strengths against England. Cricket is such a sport and that is the beauty of this game that whoever performs best on the day will come out as winners. England is a very good team and they have home advantage but there is no pressure on us as we are regarded as underdogs,” a confident Zaman said ahead of the semi-final.

“We came into the tournament as underdogs and we have surprised people by reaching the semi-finals and now it’s just about performing in two more games in the tournament,” he added.

Whatever the outcome of the semi-final against England is, Zaman has done enough to impress teammates, captain, coach and the fans, and looks set for a long run in the Pakistan limited-overs teams. Described by Mickey Arthur as a breath of fresh air, Zaman will be hoping to take England’s wind out of their sails in Cardiff.