Weary from years of World Cup indifference, sleeping white ball giants Pakistan turned to an Australia legend last year.
Pakistan won the ODI World Cup in 1992, the World T20 in 2009, while the nation featured in finals in 1999 and 2007.
Victory in the ICC Champions Trophy came in 2017 amid a strong upturn in results, but the taste of World Cup success had long been forgotten for a cricket-mad nation of about 225 million.
Who better to turn to other than the man who lived for white ball cricket’s showpiece events, Matthew Hayden?
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The imposing former opener’s storeyed career was partly defined by his thirst for runs at World Cups.
A winner with Australia in 2003 and 2007, Hayden also starred at the inaugural World T20 15 years ago. At that tournament, Hayden topscored with 265 runs at 88.33 and struck at 144.80.
It’s not a stretch to say that his swashbuckling displays from the top of the order helped shape the way 20-over cricket is played today.
Earlier that year saw Hayden average 73.22 in Australia’s domination of the ODI World Cup, which included a 66-ball century he scored against South Africa.
It was the fastest-ever century by an Australian in an ODI at the time.
It’s that sort of magic that was missing for Pakistan, who had spent the better part of a decade in the shadows of cricket’s other major players, Australia, England and India.
Pakistan had failed to make it out of the group in the past two T20 World Cups, representing a steady decline having reached the final of the first two editions, followed by two semi finals. The nation also didn’t make it out of the group at the 2019 ODI World Cup in England.
As the 2021 T20 World Cup neared, Pakistan was eager to draw a line in the sand. Pakistan was potentially inside a World Cup-winning window with incredible talents Babar Azam, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan in its ranks.
Getting the players to truly believe they can go all the way, however, would be another matter — this is a team that despite its quality has long been associated with rollercoaster fortunes.
No wonder the unflappable Hayden has been a glove-like fit for Pakistan.
A man who oozes belief, calmness and a nurturing demeanour looks, from all angles, like a perfect match with Pakistan’s players, who are responding to his influence.
You just needed to take one look at his viral speech after Pakistan’s final group stage match, and the way the players hang off his every word.
Pakistan came within an inch of reaching last year’s World Cup final, and has gone one step further this year by booking a date with England in the MCG finale.
It has done so despite suffering consecutive last-ball losses to India and Zimbabwe in its first two matches.
Hayden’s long-time teammate and broadcast colleague Brett Lee said there’s nothing coincidental about Pakistan’s eventual rise.
“It doesn’t surprise me that, under the guidance of Haydos, Pakistan are a better unit,” Lee told foxsports.com.au on Friday. “Because he’s such an inspirational character.
“He’s always been that way. He’s always been a leader. He’s always been a person that speaks from the heart and a person that will call it out if it’s not right.
“And I like that about Haydos. There’s so much transparency. He doesn’t beat around the bush.”
Lee lined up alongside Hayden in many of cricket’s biggest occasions, from World Cups, to Ashes, to Boxing Day Tests.
During his prime, Hayden would elevate to another level in a high-pressure environment, such as when he scored 203 against India in Chennai when the 2001 Test series was 1-1.
“He was a big-game player. He loved the big occasion. He wasn’t overawed by the big crowds and stature of playing in a World Cup, or an Ashes, or a Boxing Day Test,” Lee said.
“His record in those big, big games would be among the best of his career because he knew how to compartmentalise and put things into perspective to get the best out of him as an athlete.
“All these things he’s learnt from playing at that top level in these pressure situations that he’s passed on now to Pakistan, it’d be to back yourself, play with that freedom.
“I can almost hear the words he’s saying in the changerooms to the guys about having that confidence to express yourself as an athlete, and be the best version of yourself. Whereas a lot of people get to those big situations, and we saw it with India, where they second-guess themselves, they’re hesitant, they’re a bit overawed by the situation.
“Some people it brings out the best in them, and one person it brought the best out of was Matthew Hayden.”
Adam Gilchrist had a front-row seat to much of Hayden’s dominance in ODI cricket during the early 21st century.
In fact, the Gilchrist-Hayden ODI partnership remains Australia’s most prolific after 5,409 runs at an average of 47.44.
Asked by foxsports.com.au what makes Hayden so well-suited to his Pakistan role, Gilchrist said: “I would say his passion and his unconditional commitment to the role, which has been obvious for everyone to see.
“Those little snippets show just how much he invests himself into any commitment that he has, any relationship that he has.
“So it’s far from just being a job opportunity to earn some money and get a nice resume built up around coaching and consulting. It’s something he takes very seriously, as would Mike Hussey with England.”
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Gilchrist, who is part of the official ICC commentary team at the tournament, says that the admiration the Pakistan players have for Hayden is clear from the outer.
After securing passage through to the semi finals in Adelaide, Gilchrist said that his former opening partner’s impact on the group was obvious from interactions away from the ground.
“On evidence, my son and I were going through the airport after the Adelaide games and the Pakistan team were in transit and they were all just hanging around Haydos,” Gilchrist said. “Hanging on every word. It was amazing.
“I think that just summed it up. The pride and the passion he has in any role he takes on.”
Arguably the biggest part in what is making the partnership work, however, is that it’s a two-way street.
Hayden has plenty of wisdom to offer, but if the players aren’t willing to listen, absorb, and act, then it’s all for naught.
That Pakistan has grown into this tournament, and now stands 40 overs away from a third World Cup trophy, is testament to this group’s resilience and attitude towards improvement.
Gilchrist says that it’s made taking on the mentor role a fulfilling experience for Hayden.
“In speaking with him, what’s really impressed him and he’s found quite enjoyable from his role, and his perspective of the role, is just how eager the Pakistan players are to try and absorb any information from him,” Gilchrist said. “Any knowledge, any experience he was able to garner from a hall-of-fame career, particularly around World Cups, playing so successfully and dominantly in a couple of World Cups.
“He says they’re just like sponges, eager to learn and tap into that.”
A rampant England now stands in the way of the ultimate triumph for Pakistan having crushed India by 10 wickets in Thursday’s semi final.
It’s been hailed as one of the greatest T20 World Cup performances of all-time, and has made England the favourite to win at the MCG.
But to treat the England charge as a scary threat would be to misunderstand this Hayden-mentored Pakistan group entirely.
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There’s no doubt that Pakistan believes it is the one that must be feared, and not England.
“Boys, we are dangerous, just understand and appreciate that,” Hayden said to his players after reaching the semi finals.
“The moment Pakistan cricket fires off with intent and starts to reveal its teeth, we become a real threat.
“There will be no one in this world and this competition that would want to face us right now. Not one.”
What happens next is anyone’s guess given it’s been a tournament that has been almost impossible to predict.
Symbolic of that madness is that the final will be played between a team that lost to Zimbabwe (Pakistan), and a team that lost to Ireland (England).
But if there’s anyone to keep a calm head and see clearly through the chaos, it’s Hayden, who will be an invaluable asset for Pakistan in the coming days.
“When I was a teammate of his, and we played so many matches together and commentated together, the way that he prepares for stuff, the way that he expects perfection every single time, is what made Matthew Hayden the cricketer that he was, but also the person that he is,” Lee said.
“I’m really happy for him … I’m really proud of what he’s achieved.”
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here