A beaming Matthew Hayden was backing Pakistan to stay on course for a berth in Sunday's T20 World Cup final against New Zealand in Dubai. Sent in to bat by Australia, Pakistan scored a formidable 176 for four in their 20 overs, courtesy blazing knocks from opener Mohammad Rizwan (67) and Fakhar Zaman (55 not out).
Teams batting first and scoring 175-plus in Dubai, have won nine out of 10 matches. But it was not to be for Pakistan Thursday night as Australia blazed to a five-wicket win with six balls remaining. An 81-run partnership between Mathew Wade and Marcus Stoinis consigned Pakistan to defeat.
Matthew Hayden is the batting consultant of the Pakistan cricket team for this T20 World Cup. The burly Australian opener had predicted Fakhar Zaman coming to the party against Australia on Thursday. The left-handed Fakhar Zaman struck a 32-ball 55. The knock was studded with three fours and four sixes.
But it was Mohammad Rizwan who held the Pakistan batting together. After being hit by a bouncer from Mitchell Starc, Rizwan smashed 67 off 52 balls to keep Pakistan racing much to the delight of their fans who had packed the Dubai stadium. Unbeaten till the semifinals, Pakistan have never beaten Australia in the knockout stages of a World Cup.
Rizwan was in doubt for the semifinal match. Hayden revealed that the gutsy wicketkeeper-batsman had a "lung problem and went to the hospital on Wednesday."
Hayden unwittingly made news on the eve of Australia vs Pakistan semifinal for being an Aussie who would be sitting in the Pakistan dugout in such a crucial match. Did his secret inputs help the Pakistani batsmen?
"It's a conflict of interest obviously, because my heart always beats for Australia. But I love being part of this Pakistan team. They are exceptional, and tonight they've been brilliant. Mohammad Rizwan was in hospital yesterday, but he was fit to play today, and he showed exceptional bravery," said Hayden.
Indian cricket fans will recall how Rizwan and skipper Babar Azam, who scored 39 off 34 balls on Thursday, blew away Indians by 10 wickets earlier in this T20 World Cup. Tonight, Rizwan and Babar came good against the Australians too with an opening stand of 71 in 10 overs before Fakhar Zaman stepped on the gas.
Fakhar Zaman had devastated India in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final at the Oval in London. Opening the innings with Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman had scored 114 runs off 106 balls to lay the foundation for a mammoth Pakistan total of 338 for four wickets. India lost that final by 180 runs.