"It's never more important": Hayden eager to take trophy back to Pakistan
Pakistan have been unstoppable so far in the ongoing ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021. After beating India in their first Super 12 game, Pakistan have gone on an unbeaten run, winning five games out of five in Group 2, and also became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals.
They are two steps away from becoming two-time T20 World Cup champions and bringing home the trophy they last won in 2009.
Pakistan's batting consultant Matthew Hayden spoke about what the trophy would mean to the people of Pakistan, who have missed out on cricketing action at home for a large part of the last decade.
"Yes, this is an extremely important tournament for Pakistan, as it is every membership nation," said Hayden.
"We face Australia tomorrow, a country which has been incredibly proud to set high standards in terms of delivery on trophies for its country in World Cups, and this is one that it's never got in the trophy cabinet, so lots of high-stake matches ahead of us now.
"From Pakistan cricket point of view, I feel that as a nation that loves cricket as much as it does, and as focused so heavily on cricket, and also to have tournaments including the ones that I was a part of cancelled for numerous reasons, it's never more important, and the awareness is heightened that out of this great nation we've got a squad of players here that are ready to perform and are ready to take on not only the semi-finals but should we, inshallah, get beyond that, the finals."
At the forefront of Pakistan's sensational run in the World Cup has been their skipper Babar Azam. With 264 runs in the five games, he is currently leading the charts for the highest run-scorers in the tournament. With four fifties in the five games, he is currently equalled Virat Kohli's record for most fifties in a single edition of the men's T20 World Cup.
Hayden was all praise for the skipper and also gave a detailed insight into what makes him such a special player.
"Babar and his personality is what you see is what you get. He's very consistent. He's very stable. He's not overly flamboyant. In fact I'd go as far as to say he's almost the opposite personality to someone like Virat Kohli, who's very animated, very passionate, and very boisterous on the field. Got great control, and he's got a wonderful temperament.
"Babar Azam the batsman is highly talented, as you mentioned, and just to give you an insight into that talent, his ability to be able to consistently react to the ball is really second to none that I've seen. He picks up the line and the length of the ball quicker than the average cricketer that's going around, and that's the mark of someone that's a very fine player.
"His reaction time, his ability to be able to play, I think, a consistent version of his best self means that he doesn't have to have all the innovations. He doesn't have to necessarily be stroking with any kind of increase or decrease in his temperament. He can remain pretty neutral. And then when he gets into the middle stages of the match, he also has the ability through just good cricket shots to find his natural tempo, which is a strike rate of around 140, 150 and beyond.
"It's a great testimony to not only his game but how he can consistently scale his performances through greater strike rate, increased strike rate over time."
The other player who has been impressive for Pakistan in their journey to the semis is Shaheen Afridi. Quizzed on what his best quality was, Hayden spoke highly of his ability to swing the ball early on.
"Yeah, his high-quality pace is most certainly part of his arsenal, and the white ball doesn't swing for a long time in T20 cricket in particular it seems to be a number of balls, not a number of overs. Those number of balls, though, can be destructive, as we saw from his delivery to KL Rahul, one of the best balls that I've seen ever, apart from the last two or three months of observing cricket in this country and in the UAE.
"He's got that ability like every good strike bowler to be able to commit to wonderful pace, which means that his preparation, his recovery and his just ability, in general, to be able to focus on delivering fast, bowling day in, day out, and Vernon Philander has also done a really wonderful job in preparing him for that, has meant that he's been a consistent performer in international cricket."
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