Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who formed one of Test cricket’s most enduring and destructive opening partnerships, will briefly become rivals on Thursday when Pakistan tackles Australia for a place in the T20 World Cup 2021 final.
Both now aged 50, their competitive natures have found new outlets — Hayden as batting consultant with Pakistan and Langer as Australia’s head coach.
“It’s a very unusual feeling,” admitted Hayden on Wednesday.
“I was a warrior for Australian cricket over two decades, so 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 and Langer were the bedrock of the Australian side for the best part of a decade.
They opened together for the first time at The Oval in 2001 and strode out side-by-side for the final time at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2007.
In between, they collected 5,655 runs together when opening, a record that included six double-century partnerships. Their average was a shade under 52.
Both men ended their careers with over 100 Tests each and bags of runs — Hayden smashed 8,625 while Langer hit 7,696.
Hayden admits Thursday’s clash will pull at the heart and the memories.
“I guess from my point of view there is the challenge of the heart, the challenge of the mind in terms of what’s going to happen over the next 24 hours,” he said.
“But I’ll also say very proudly that it’s been wonderful to be a part of Pakistan cricket. We have some incredible young players, a mix of wonderful experienced players in our line-up, and they and the team are performing admirably.”
‘These are my boys’
Langer has endured a difficult time as coach in recent times.
The former opener took over in the aftermath of the notorious “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering tour of South Africa in 2018 and was widely praised for rebuilding the culture of Australian cricket.
But dressing-room unrest has never been far away and he was forced to address negative feedback over his management style this year, which culminated in crisis talks with senior players and executives.
Defeat on Thursday against an undefeated Pakistan and with the Ashes on home soil to follow will only ramp up the pressure.
“Justin Langer and myself are in similar positions insofar as a national coach or a batting coach never wins a game of cricket,” said Hayden.
“The 11 that take part in the game win the game, and we are back-up only.”
Hayden says he wants to leave a lasting legacy with the Pakistan team by helping deliver a second T20 world title to follow its 2009 triumph.
In that respect, he paid an emotional tribute to former Australian star Dean Jones who coached and commentated extensively in Pakistan.
Jones died suddenly at the age of 59 in Mumbai in September, 2020.
“Dean’s closing words to me I can hear in my ears were,” recalled Hayden, “‘These are my boys. This is something I’m so passionate about’. He was just beautifully connected to Pakistan cricket. May he rest in peace now, knowing that fact that he’s left a legacy within this team, which will last not only this generation but generations to come.
“If I can add any value to those closing comments from Deano, that would be my greatest honour.”