Pakistan embracing spirit of 1992, says Hayden

Published November 12, 2022
MELBOURNE: Pakistan cricketers stretch during a training session on Friday.—AFP
MELBOURNE: Pakistan cricketers stretch during a training session on Friday.—AFP

MELBOURNE: Pakistan are attempting to conjure the spirit of 1992 ahead of their unlikely Twenty20 World Cup final appearance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

More than 30 years after Imran Khan led Pakistan to a famous victory in the ODI World Cup over England, Babar Azam’s current group will hope to lift a trophy at the same ground against the same country.

Pakistan are embracing that history, with Pakistan board chairman Ramiz Raja on Friday retelling stories of the final he opened the batting in and took the final catch that sealed victory.

The similarities between Pakistan’s run to Sunday’s final against England and the 1992 decider are uncanny.

Just like 30 years ago, Pakistan lost their opening game at the MCG, went down to India in the group stage, won their last three games just to qualify for the final four, before rolling New Zealand in a semi-final.

“[Ramiz] came out to talk to the boys, just reliving some of those stories around the ‘92 World Cup and I think that’s great because that’s why you play the game,” Pakistan , team mentor Matthew Hayden told reporters at the MCG on Friday.

“These boys, their career will inevitably be over in the blink of an eye and they’ll be looking back on this tournament. Regardless of the result they’ll be saying that we were in a semi-final, in a final and hopefully they can say were in a winning final.

“They will tell these stories around campfires in their villages, in media conferences like this and it will be an important chapter of Pakistan cricket, as was the ‘92 campaign.”

There are also differences, of course. For a start, skipper Babar Azam is not 39 years old.

Imran was that age, and in the twilight of his career, when he described his team as cornered tigers and went on to lead them to that triumphant win over England in the final.

Babar is 28, but he could match Imran’s feat at the MCG on Sunday — this time in a cricket format which was non-existent in the 90s.

PAKISTAN’S head coach Saqlain Mushtaq (L) and mentor Matthew Hayden watch the players during a training session.—AFP
PAKISTAN’S head coach Saqlain Mushtaq (L) and mentor Matthew Hayden watch the players during a training session.—AFP

For some, it’s difficult to fathom how the stars aligned for Babar and Imran in Australia three decades apart.

The question remains, can Babar keep his stars aligned with Imran for one more day?

“Our efforts, our collective partnerships and our belief in each other mean that we’re actually opting even more in because that’s what it takes to win a championship,” Hayden said.

Hayden said the 1992 World Cup was important for Pakistan and the game globally because it “was the emergence of another superpower under one of the most influential cricketers of all time.”

He also paid tribute to Imran, Pakistan’s legendary captain and the country’s former prime minister, who survived an assassination attempt during a protest last week.

“Imran Khan is doing great things. Celebrating democracy is an important part of life and he’s doing that like a champion he was in the 92 World Cup. So, yeah, it is important for sure.”

Hayden, the legendary Australian opener, has had a major influence on the Pakistan squad in this year’s tournament, and the last edition in the UAE.

The 51-year-old has been impressed by Pakistan’s ability to fight through the adversity of painful defeats to India and Zimbabwe and find form the longer the World Cup has gone.

“I really like the struggle, I think it gives you an opportunity to be able to grow and reflect as a team,” Hayden said.

England, who won the last 50-overs World Cup in 2019 on home soil, are rated clear favourites by bookmakers to win on Sunday after humiliating India by 10 wickets in Thursday’s semi-final at Adelaide Oval.

Hayden, however, felt Pakistan’s attack would be a good match for the English and particularly their captain Jos Buttler and Alex Hales, who chased down 169 for victory in an unbroken partnership to embarrass India’s bowlers.

“I think the bases are covered,” said Hayden. “I think both sides actually have got very equal set-ups. It’s just ‘even-stevens’. At the start of this tournament I always thought that England was going to be a huge threat. And here we are on the edge of a final.”

Pakistan pace spearheads Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah will be tasked with blunting the in-form openers and Hayden said that was key to the final.

“It’s obvious really, isn’t it — quality fast bowling against quality batting, it’s why you watch the game,” he said. “But we’ve got four quicks that really make an impact and can create some sustainable damage inside 20 overs.

“One of the things I think India was really missing last night in the bowling department was a leg-spinning option — really a sixth bowling option.

“Our side has six genuine options and a seventh as well should it be required. So I think the bases are covered.”

Both teams know each other well, playing a seven-game T20 series in Pakistan ahead of the World Cup, which England won 4-3.

“On the day, who handles the pressure, who’s got their game preparation spot on, who can handle their emotions, it’s how they start and how they finish,” said Hayden. “All those cliches of the sport, they matter in the big games.”

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2022

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