According to team coach Matthew Hayden, Pakistan’s best is still to come, and struggling captain Babar Azam will need “something really exceptional” in their Twenty20 World Cup semifinal match against New Zealand on Wednesday.
The Netherlands unexpectedly overcame South Africa, and Pakistan subsequently defeated Bangladesh to claim their second consecutive last-four ticket, allowing the 2009 winners to barely make it into the knockout rounds.
They intended to make the most of their second chance, according to former Australia opener and current team mentor Hayden, who served as Pakistan’s batting coach in the previous World Cup.
“When the Netherlands beat South Africa it was a significant moment for us, a very significant moment for the team in general around reaching its potential,” he said on the eve of the semi-final in Sydney.
“Lots of prayers as Pakistan woke up to see that result, 232 million people can’t be wrong, and as a result of that, I feel there has been very much uplift in tempo in our group.
“It has been a roller-coaster… but I really believe we have yet to play our best game, which is a huge threat to the opposition.”
When facing a top-notch New Zealand attack led by Tim Southee, Trent Boult, and Lockie Ferguson, Pakistan’s batting has been vulnerable despite the improvement in their bowling, under the direction of Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Babar Azam’s performance in particular is still concerning as the opener has scored just 39 runs in five games.
The skipper was due some “fireworks,” according to Hayden, who was a destructive opener who played in 103 Tests and 161 ODIs. He predicted they might start on Wednesday.
“There’s no question Babar Azam has been under some adversity but that will only make him an even greater player,” he said.
“We know with the weather that when there’s a lull, there’s often a storm that follows, so look out rest of the world because I think we’re about to see something very special from Babar.”
In Sydney, Australia, they opened their season with a commanding 89-run victory over the reigning champions, and according to Hayden, Pakistan was apprehensive of the Black Caps.
He remarked, “New Zealand has some pretty destructive players and they can put you under strain with the bat. They reached 200 on this specific pitch against Australia.
They also have an excellent, balanced bowling attack.
“Like New Zealand sport in general, they truly punch above their weight; they have a chance to win this competition, and they believe they can.”
So many threats to our camp, without a doubt.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson played down any significance in his team making 200-3 on the Sydney wicket, noting that they only managed 167-7 against Sri Lanka when they returned to the ground later in the tournament.
“The first game we played here the wicket was a very good one and then the second time it had changed,” he said.
“We’ll just be looking to focus on our cricket really and the plans that we are looking to execute and make sure we adjust to the conditions and try and play smart.”
New Zealand followed up that first Sydney win with a six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, with a washed-out game against Afghanistan in between. They lost by 20 runs to England before hammering Ireland to secure a semi-final place.
Williamson claimed that in terms of the knockouts, the outcomes didn’t matter much.
“Sports finals may go anyway,” he observed. Both teams are fairly well-matched, there are some common patterns, and we have both been playing excellent cricket.
They have an excellent pace attack, he continued. “They have some highly seasoned players on their roster, match-winners, so their team has tremendous power.”