‘Babar Azam is consistent, stable, not overly flamboyant - the opposite of Virat Kohli'

Matthew Hayden looks ahead to Pakistan’s T20 World Cup meeting with Australia, and his mate Justin Langer

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam in action in the T20 World Cup game against Scotland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. AFP
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When Matthew Hayden was parachuted into a coaching position with Pakistan at late notice ahead of the T20 World Cup, by his old commentary box colleague Ramiz Raja, it seemed an odd fit.

As an international player for 15 years with Australia, he never once was able to tour Pakistan. It was, he says now, “one regret” from his stellar career.

And now, the side which he is newly-assisting at the behest of the new Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Raja are taking on the one he was defined by – the one for which he says he was “a warrior” – with a place in the final at stake.

Hayden acknowledges the semifinal between Pakistan and Australia at Dubai International Stadium on Thursday will be “a challenge of the heart”. To exacerbate the issue, his former batting partner and close pal Justin Langer is coaching the opposition.

“It is a very unusual feeling,” Hayden said. “As you all know, I was a warrior for Australian cricket over two decades.

“That does give me the benefit of having wonderful insights, not only into these players, but also into the culture of cricket in Australia.”

Hayden played down his own influence on the potential outcome. As a batting consultant for Pakistan, his is a background role in a fixture which will be decided by the players alone, he says.

“From my point of view, there is the challenge of the heart, and the challenge of the mind,” Hayden said.

“I also say very proudly it has been wonderful to be part of Pakistan cricket. We have some incredible young players, mixed with experienced players, in our line up. They and the team are performing admirably.

Pakistan's Mohammad Hafeez takes some tips from Matthew Hayden in Dubai. AFP

“Justin Langer and myself are in similar positions in terms of a national coach or a batting coach never wins the game of cricket.

“The XI that takes part in the game win the game, and we are back up only. But being a back up is something I’ve really enjoyed over the past month.

“I am looking forward to seeing how this group of young men take forward this semifinal match.”

As an ex-opening batter of great renown himself, Hayden has appreciated the chance to view the workings of a modern master of the craft, Babar Azam, during this tournament.

Pakistan’s captain has scored four half-centuries in Pakistan’s five wins in the World Cup so far. Hayden regards him as a classy operator.

“Babar and his personality is, as you see is what you get,” Hayden said. “He is very consistent. He is very stable. He is not overly flamboyant.

"In fact, I would go as far as to say he is almost the opposite personality to someone like Virat Kohli, who is very animated, very passionate, and very boisterous on the field.

“He has great control, and a wonderful temperament.”

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam plays a shot against Namibia at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on November 2. AFP

In terms of his batting method, Hayden thinks Babar’s ability to pick up line and length is what sets him apart from the rest.

“Babar Azam the batsman is wonderfully talented,” Hayden said.

“Just to give you and insight into that talent, his ability to be able to consistently be able to react to the ball is second to none from what I’ve seen.

“He picks up the line and the length of the ball quicker than the average cricketer that is going around. That is the mark of someone that is a very fine player.

“His reaction time, his ability to play a consistent version of his best self means he doesn’t have to have all the innovations, he doesn’t have to be striking with any increase or decrease in his temperament. He can remain neutral.

“When he gets into the middle stages of the match he also has the ability, through just natural cricket shots, to find his natural tempo, which is a strike-rate of 140-150, and beyond.

“It is a great testimony to, not only his game, but how he can consistently scale his performances through increased strike rate over time.”

Updated: November 10, 2021, 9:16 AM