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Was Fakhar Zaman’s knock the greatest ODI innings in a losing cause?

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Ben Gardner analyses Fakhar Zaman’s incredible 193 against South Africa, trying to slot it into the greatest ODI innings in a defeat.

It may be of little consolation right now, but hopefully at some point Fakhar Zaman can reflect fondly on having put together one of the greatest ODI innings in the second South Africa-Pakistan match.

The opener could only watch from the other end as wickets tumbled. When Pakistan’s seventh wicket fell, he had 97 runs from 105 balls, and the tourists still needed 137 runs to win at a rate of more than 11 runs per over. The game seemed as good as done, with Zaman’s century – if he got there – to be remembered as little but a footnote.

What followed was instantaneous and extraordinary. Back on strike at the start of the 39th over, he drilled two before nailing a pull for four to bring up his century. The landmark was in the bag, and the flick had been switched. From then on he was merciless, and when he crunched three consecutive sixes off Tabraiz Shamsi, what had seemed not only impossible but unthinkable only moments ago was very much on.

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There were moments of luck – a review controversially struck off early on, and a dropped catch as South Africa struggled to keep their nerve at the death – but Zaman earned his fortune. Even with 31 runs required from the last, with the opener on strike, Pakistan were still in the hunt. What happened next may dominate the news cycle in the near future, but shouldn’t detract from the brilliance of the performance.

The natural instinct with any great sporting effort is to try and rank it, deduce just how good it really was. Statistically, Zaman’s masterclass is right up there. His 193 is the highest score in an ODI chase – successful or otherwise – and the second-highest score in an ODI defeat, behind Charles Coventry’s 194* against Bangladesh in 2009.

As a lone hand, it also ranks highly. He ended up with 59.57 per cent of Pakistan’s runs, which isn’t quite a record. Eight batsmen have achieved a higher percentage in a loss, a list that also includes Coventry’s innings. Most of these were forlorn efforts in games that did not end up being close – Coventry’s arguable falls into this bracket, with Bangladesh winning with more than two overs remaining. Tony Ura, who made 151 out of 253 in a last-over defeat for Papua New Guinea against Ireland, and Zimbabwe’s Dave Houghton, who made 142 against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup, are two contenders.

Houghton’s deserves particular deliberation. There was plenty riding on the game, and Zimbabwe slid to 104-7 before he helped them rebuild, putting on a century stand for the eighth wicket. He fell with Zimbabwe 22 runs short of victory, and they eventually lost by three runs.

Another World Cup heartbreak against New Zealand also comes close. Carlos Brathwaite didn’t go as big as Zaman, but he came closer, caught out on the boundary attempting to hit the six that would have taken West Indies to victory against the eventual finalists. He had just 14 to his name when West Indies’ seventh wicket fell, with 128 runs needed to win. He hit the majority of those himself, knocking it around before launching right when the game seemed gone. Nearly 50 runs were needed when the ninth wicket fell, but Brathwaite marshalled Oshane Thomas brilliantly, smashing 22 runs off four Matt Henry balls to take himself to 98 before falling for 101. That Brathwaite’s overall record remains poor – he averages just 16.44 from 47 games – only adds to the mystique.

As far as tail-shepherding goes, however, Marcus Stoinis takes the prize. He began his last-wicket partnership with Josh Hazlewood in a 2017 ODI – strangely, also against New Zealand – two runs short of his hundred, with Australia still needing 61 to win. Four overs later, Hazlewood still hadn’t faced a ball, Stoinis was 146*, and Australia needed seven to win, before a run-out as Stoinis attempted one last strike steal scuppered the chase.

As ever, Sachin Tendulkar finds his way into the conversation, with his most – or least – fondly remembered ton coming against Australia in 2009. Chasing 351 to win, he blitzed 175, taking India to 332-6, which became 332-7 when he was finally dismissed. But as was the case for much of the pre-Virat Kohli era, there were few positions India couldn’t find a way to lose from, and they slid to 347 all out and defeat by three runs.

Still, it’s Tendulkar who might just provide the answer to our question, with a loophole of a match-loser back in the Nineties. The Desert Storm innings are arguably his most celebrated ODI knocks, and it’s barely remembered that the first didn’t actually result in an India win. They only needed to get close to Australia’s total for net run rate to get them a place in the final, though when the Aussies racked up 284, that still seemed a tough ask. Enter the Little Master, who crashed 143 off 131 – next highest score: 35 – to take India to a 26-run loss but book a place in the showpiece nevertheless. There he creamed another century, this time to actually take India to victory.

So what’s the best ODI innings in a defeat? Maybe the one that still achieved what the team needed it to!

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