Epitome of power play

Matthew Hayden's one-day average, as it stands, beefed up by nine centuries and 30 fifties, counts among the best in the world — with the inescapable caveat that he is yet to cross 150 games, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

Matthew Hayden, one-day underperformer, is not wholly detached from Matthew Hayden, Test run-machine, or at least shouldn't be, particularly seeing that the Australians play both forms with comparable aggression. It was getting even harder to explain Hayden's relative lack of success in one-dayers than his glut of runs for five Test seasons, but reason might finally be restored in the twilight of Matthew Hayden's career.

Last week's World Cup record 66-ball century against the number one side in the world, South Africa, was followed immediately by an imperious 158 from 143 balls, arguably his finest one-day innings, against the host, West Indies; and after the Australian record 181 not out he scored (albeit in a losing cause) against New Zealand earlier this year, Hayden has finally asserted himself as the battering ram alongside Adam Gilchrist's rapier.

Truth be told, Hayden's career has for the most part swung between extremes, from prolific to patchy, from shortage to surplus. A particularly long spell of domination, which peaked with the then-world record Test score of 380 against a weak Zimbabwe, was followed by a prolonged lean patch for nearly a couple of seasons. Evidence that bowlers were eventually able to sort him out is perhaps what most damages his claims to greatness.

Superficial comparisons can be drawn between his game and Sri Lankan left-handed opener Sanath Jayasuriya's. Both possess powerful forearms and wrists and, like they have repeatedly shown in the West Indies, are capable of clearing smaller grounds with ease. Both are susceptible early on behind the wicket. The supremely fit Sri Lankan opener has, however, had a longer run whereas Hayden was discarded because his brand of ball-bashing — which relies mainly on piercing attacking fields — was better suited to Tests, and he wasn't such an effective rotator of strike.

While his high career averages — 53 in Tests and over 43 in one-dayers — appear to confirm his stature as one of the finest cricketers of the past few decades, such is the debate surrounding Hayden's true worth that when the history of cricket is updated after his retirement, it's uncertain if his record, in itself, can supplant reservations regarding his position in the hierarchy of greats.

Hayden remains the sort of player whose genius is seldom acknowledged without a smirk; the kind of batsman whom purists haughtily write off as brutally effective, and as a playground bully whose power — most effectively harnessed square of the wicket, particularly on the off-side, on even tracks against fast-medium bowling — ought to be countered with spin and slower, fuller deliveries. Sadly or otherwise, his achievements have hitherto been invariably belittled by caveats.

The Australians, under Steve Waugh, pioneered aggressive batting and scoring at over four an over in Test cricket, and it was partly because Hayden was plundering runs at a quick rate for Queensland that he could muscle his way back at the start of this decade, after spending six uncertain years at the international level.

Ricky Ponting, a greater batsman than Hayden in most respects and no less attacking (though his methods are more refined), has ensured that Waugh's ideology continues to be implemented. Hayden's consistency at the top of the order has allowed the Australians to chase wins when a draw might have been considered satisfactory. Refreshingly, this has forced opposition teams to modify their approach, attack more, and made the sport more interesting.

Indeed, Test cricket owes much to Hayden and Justin Langer, who formed one of the most devastatingly prolific opening combinations in Test history and compiled 14 century opening stands in a partnership that spanned five years at an average of over 50 per innings.

Hayden held firm against India in Laxman's series of 2001, his breakthrough performance, as he slogswept his way to 549 runs, still an Australian record for a three-Test tour. But Harbhajan Singh flustered him with his tremendous variation on his next trip to the sub-continent — the equally famous Final Frontier series — although, in the end, the form that Hayden displayed on those two tours didn't seem to impact on the respective results.

The 2004 series against India proved the start of a horror period for the burly left-hander; and after half a decade of pillage around the world, his game was starting to unravel where it had all come together.

Hayden's Ashes Tour of 2005 began in disastrous fashion; he would repeatedly see off the new ball only to lose his wicket towards the end of the first session. Attempted drives on the backfoot, his bread and butter stroke, produced edges. So many factors go into producing dismissals that it is sometimes purposeless to pinpoint "lack of footwork" or "playing away from the body". But it is fair to say the Hayden of that lean period struggled because of a general lack of confidence, and his temporary loss of timing seemed to escalate into a long string of early dismissals, something serious for a specialist batsman and potentially career threatening. The first four Tests in that historic Ashes series produced just 180 runs for Hayden with a highest score of 36, which was one of the many things that allowed England to creep ahead in the series.

But his critics hadn't reckoned with Hayden's mental resilience, which, combined with large doses of luck, would help compensate for his often dodgy footwork particularly against spin or his relative awkwardness down legside. The 138 in the final Test at the Oval was a hesitant comeback but since then he has re-established himself against the odds as a more mature batsman, who has neither forsaken his cavalier punishing approach against bad deliveries, nor is any longer easily intimidated by good, tight bowling.

Hayden's Test record is impressive: 27 centuries in 89 matches; and not to forget, he has the fourth highest conversion rate in Test history for centuries scored per Test played, and lies only behind Don Bradman, George Headley and Clyde Walcott.

Surprisingly, his scores in limited overs were less spectacular to begin with, and even through his most bountiful periods in Tests he remained relatively sedate in the shorter form. Hayden was largely overshadowed by Adam Gilchrist, who must count alongside Jayasuriya as among the more explosive batsmen to have opened in one-day cricket.

But by the 2003 World Cup Hayden had established himself among the top three batsmen in both forms. His one-day average, as it stands, beefed up by nine centuries and 30 fifties, counts among the best in the world — with the inescapable caveat that he is yet to cross 150 games.

"I've had to show a lot of commitment and passion, first to get back into the one-day side — and in particular, to represent Australia at the World Cup," Hayden remarked recently. "It took a lot to get into this position and I'm just very pleased for the supporters, selectors and Ricky Ponting that it is paying off."

That Hayden should have managed to regain his form at long last despite his supposedly glaring technical limitations in this era of video analysis, goes some way in supporting calls for Hayden's restitution into the top strata.