SYDNEY (Reuters) – Pakistan mentor Matthew Hayden is backing struggling captain Babar Azam to produce something special in the knockout stages of the Twenty20 World Cup, starting in Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand.
Opener Babar put together his first innings of note against Bangladesh in their final group match on Sunday as Pakistan scraped into the semi-finals courtesy of the Netherlands’ upset of South Africa.
The 25 runs Babar scored at Adelaide Oval came after just 14 over his four previous matches at the tournament and former Australia opener Hayden thought an even bigger innings was on the cards on Wednesday.
“Don’t be surprised whatsoever if you see some fireworks because very special players don’t often stay down for long,” Hayden told reporters.
“Babar has been under some adversity, but that will only make him a greater player …. you can’t keep punching out hundreds and fifties and strike-rates of 140 plus, there’s got to be a lull.
“As with the weather, when there’s a lull, there’s often a storm that follows. So look out the rest of the world because I think you’re about to see something very special.”
With Babar and his longtime opening partner Mohammad Rizwan both struggling for runs, Hayden said he had been impressed with the way the Pakistan middle order had stood up.
He particularly picked out Mohammad Haris, who came into the Pakistan team as a mid-tournament injury replacement and has scored 59 runs in two innings.
“One of the things about this kind of tournament is that pretty much the entire cricketing community is fatigued to some degree,” Hayden added.
“So to have a young, fresh face with nothing to lose, nothing really to gain, but just play with great freedom has been a wonderful expression for him personally but also for team Pakistan.”
Hayden thought the additional prospect of pacemen Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Wasim and Haris Rauf firing at the Sydney Cricket Ground gave Pakistan every chance of getting to the final, despite their poor start to the tournament.
“It has been a rollercoaster ride but I wouldn’t have it any other way because the last World Cup we went into the semi-final undefeated and Australia pipped us,” Hayden said.
“I really believe we have yet to play our best game, which is a huge threat to oppositions.
“The way the middle order has stepped up to the plate has been excellent and those fast bowlers, man, there’s four of them and they come at great pace.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)
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