Matthew Hayden has tipped Pakistan’s out-of-form captain Babar Azam to produce “something very special” in the latter stages of the T20 World Cup.
Babar averaged 7.8 during the Super 12s with 39 runs in 63 balls but his side bounced back from losing their first two matches to win the next three and improbably finish in the top two of their group.
Standing between them and a place in the final is New Zealand and while concerns about Babar’s struggles linger, Hayden, the former Australia opener and now Pakistan team mentor, is relaxed about a player who averages over 41 from 97 T20Is with two hundreds and 29 fifties.
Hayden said: “In any given career, you have significant moments of ups and downs, and the challenges and the humps along the way, they cement you and your greatness, how you achieve under adversity.
“There’s no question that Babar has been under some adversity. That will make him only an even greater player. You can’t continue to keep on punching out hundreds and 50s and strike rates of 140-plus.
“And as we all know about the weather, once there’s a lull, there’s often a storm that follows. So look out, rest of the world, because I think you’re about to see something very special from Babar.”
Pakistan began their campaign by losing a last-ball thriller against rivals India in a gripping MCG contest and their hopes of reaching the knockout stages took a battering after being upset by Zimbabwe.
They stayed in the hunt by winning their next two games before the Netherlands’ shock win over South Africa left the door ajar and Pakistan defeated Bangladesh to finish runners-up in the group to India.
Their progress has drawn comparisons with Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ from 30 years ago, when they won the 50-over World Cup, ahead of their last-four tie against the Black Caps at Sydney on Wednesday.
“That was a memorable one for Pakistan cricket,” Hayden added. “It was also a tournament that was plagued by the nuances of Pakistan cricket; that is, there’s not a dominant performance.
“There’s a performance that gets challenged and then Pakistan suddenly turn up and they’re dangerous and formidable. And that tournament was exactly that.
“(This has been an) incredible experience, it’s been a roller coaster ride, but a ride that I wouldn’t have any other way.”
New Zealand are into the semis for the third time in a row and last year’s beaten finalists will get a chance to go one better if they defeat Pakistan, with England or India to come after that.
Kiwis captain Kane Williamson said: “The fickle nature of T20 and the competitive nature of the tournament, with all teams beating each other, means that there’s not a reliance on one or two players.
“There have been a number of players that have stood up on a number of occasions, and everybody certainly has put their hand up. It’s really trying to play together as a team and focus on that.”