Hayden: 'Nothing else I've ever seen' matches India-Pakistan rivalry
Pakistan's batting coach also says Babar Azam is the 'premier' batter everyone will 'target' at the World Cup
Matthew Hayden, Pakistan's new batting consultant, sees Babar Azam as the premier batter everyone at the T20 World Cup will be targeting. Hayden also mentioned "leadership" as one key factor in the UAE conditions, saying matches will be a "real dogfight" and the Pakistan captain has the command and presence to impose himself.
"Babar obviously has his own role to play not only in terms of leadership but as a premier batter," Hayden said. "Because as you've seen through the IPL, the two dominant captains here in the UAE, MS Dhoni, a World Cup winner and [Eoin] Morgan, a World Cup winner...even though their individual performances weren't as good as what they have previously done within their own statistical record. But the way that they led their troops and conduct themselves is an important part of the UAE because as I mentioned, it's not one side, it's not necessarily going to run away with it here. It's a real dogfight.
"The conditions and the margins for errors are very little and so good leadership is going to be key. I think Babar has that and commands that presence and that role and he needs to fulfil that role and in a batting sense as well. He, I think, is the premium player and he will be targeted. He will also be the person that everyone is wanting to put in his pocket. There's going to be additional pressure on him, both as a captain and also as a batsman. I sense that the way that he goes about it is going to be spot on."
Pakistan begin their campaign with a much hyped game against arch-rivals India on October 24 in Dubai. So far India have a 100% winning record against Pakistan in all ODI and T20 World Cups but there was one instance when the two teams tied the league game in the 2007 T20 World Cup before India won the bowl-out. When asked about being in one of the dressing rooms for such a rivalry, Hayden recalled his time playing for Australia in the Ashes against their biggest rival, England.
"For Australia, it's England as the old guard, as they would say," he said. "I mean, you could argue that England versus anyone considering that at various stages we've been ruled by the kingdom of the UK and cricket wouldn't be on our shores if it hadn't been for that. But nothing else that I've ever seen throughout various elements of the game that I've been a part of ever matches the rivalry between India and Pakistan.
"There is an obvious pressure, as there is an obvious pressure against England if you're an Australian. The pressure, though, is only as much as what you allow it to be. All that can be done is done. Your preparation is there. Your experience is there. Your opportunity now becomes a very history-making opportunity.
"I sense that our players are ready for that opportunity, and I sense that there is a calmness around our group that wants us to be a successful competitor on the day. So all that is done is done and now it's the opportunity of playing the game."
Hayden retired in 2009 and has had only limited coaching experience so far. He has taken up occasional work in the media and as a commentator, and his assignment with Pakistan at the World Cup will be his first major coaching assignment.
"Calmness is maybe something that (I want to bring in)," Hayden said . "A sense of calmness and control of remaining very present in play because World Cups are such a challenging thing and playing multiple World Cups has been such an important part of my life. One of the things that I've learned is that for whatever reason, you're always under pressure so you don't need to create it. You know, pressure environments are additional to what the game demands, so to remain calm, that'll be the one thing."
Hayden watched a lot of the Indian players "closely" while commentating during the IPL in the UAE and said KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant are two batters Pakistan should watch out for.
"I've been watching Indian cricket closely for some time," Hayden said. "As I've just mentioned, I more or less watch KL Rahul, for example, who's a major threat to Pakistan. Seeing his struggles with Test matches versus his dominance in the shorter formats of the game. Seeing someone like Rishabh Pant with his cheeky smile and his brash nature and his beautiful vision for the game. Watching how he destroyed bowling attacks because he's got that opportunity and sees it that way. Individually, I think it's always fantastic to see how players perform in a pressure match.
"This (Pakistan) camp has got some wonderful assets that will perform on the day that are ready to perform. If you look at the way that even Fakhar [Zaman] is going about his preparations for this, not to single him out, but look at the way that he has extended himself in the two warm-up matches, it's exciting to think what can happen, in a few days' time versus India. Babar at No. 2 and Rizwan in the top three…you know, such a critical part of performances here in the UAE.
"Generally speaking, when the powerplay has been such a significant part of T20 cricket in the UAE and there have been a few exceptions, but most sides that win the powerplay win the match and you don't necessarily win the powerplay by being overly aggressive. So I think that we have a very strong batting combination, including Hafeez as well. That knowledge and that wisdom and that ability to be able to build and create opportunities at the top of the order is certainly among our batting strengths. Big totals here are never going to be achieved. You know, the two 200-plus totals I feel are going to be … it would take something extraordinary on the day for that to happen."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent