Formidable in Australia, but…

Matthew Hayden-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

In Australia, Matthew Hayden remained a powerful opener who could knock the leather off the ball. At home, Hayden scored 5210 runs in 56 Tests at 57.88. His away record — 3415 runs in 47 Tests at 42.68 — pales in comparison, writes S. Dinakar.

“I think the real test for Australia would come when Matthew (Hayden) will be gone in a year for now,” said Glenn McGrath, flicking his eyes to the other corner of the coffee shop.

McGrath’s words caught this correspondent by surprise. Hadn’t Hayden declared his intention to continue in international cricket for at least another two years? At that point — during the Indian Premier League last year — Hayden was not short of runs either.

“Are you certain Hayden will go soon?” was the next question. “Wait and watch,” replied the legendary fast bowler.

Cricketers comprehend body language better than most. Perhaps, McGrath spotted something in Hayden that told him the end was not far too away.

McGrath then explained why the left-handed Hayden would be missed more by the Aussies than the others. He said, “Generally, the fast bowlers try to intimidate the batsman. They say things to the batsman, glare at him. With Hayden, it is different. He actually sledges the fast bowler, walks down the pitch to him. Mentally, it makes a big difference to the side.”

So here was an opener — a man mountain — who oozed belief. And he passed on that confidence to the rest of his mates. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the Australian line-up.

Hayden’s walk-down-the-track method to unsettle the pacemen has become a part of lore. This also indicates, rather perversely, the drop in the quality of fast bowling.

The 37-year-old Australian’s career can be separated into two parts. In the early phase, he largely struggled against the West Indian and South African pacemen. Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Allan Donald found his extravagant back-lift inviting.

Complied by V.V. Rajasekhara Rao-

Hayden’s bat was not straight enough at the point of delivery, and consequently, he would be opened up by balls leaving him. The Queenslander often perished in the cordon and the verdict was — too good for domestic cricket, not good enough for international cricket.

Under the circumstances, Hayden deserves credit for turning his career around. He used his feet and swept his way to innings of 119 (Mumbai), 97 (Kolkata) and 203 (Chennai) in 2001. Hayden — Mark II was on view.

The Aussie had displayed much resolve and commitment leading up to the 2001 tour of India; Hayden had earlier journeyed with the Australian Academy team to India to familiarise himself with the sub-continental challenges, spin bowling in particular.

Hayden, ultimately, made a pile of runs in international cricket. He notched up 8625 runs in 103 Tests at 50.73 with 30 hundreds. In the ODIs, Hayden made 6133 runs from 161 matches at 43.80.

Along the way, he formed a formidable opening combination with the smaller built Justin Langer. Both were left-handers, but their contrasting heights and methods forced the bowlers to make the switches in length.

Yet, for all his achievements, it would be hard to put Hayden alongside the all-time great openers. The Aussie left-hander averaged (in Tests) 34.50 in England, 28.14 in New Zealand and 34.66 in South Africa; the pitches of these countries encourage seam and swing.

He improved his record in South Africa in the second phase of his career with two match-winning centuries but the numbers — overall — do not swing the argument in his favour.

In Australia, he remained a powerful opener who could knock the leather off the ball. At home, Hayden scored 5210 runs in 56 Tests at 57.88. His away record — 3415 runs in 47 Tests at 42.68 — pales in comparison. Also significant is the fact that 21 of Hayden’s 30 Test hundreds came at home.

He was essentially a momentum batsman who was not averse to taking calculated risks. He managed his back-lift better in the second-half of his career but was also helped by some mediocre pace attacks.

Visualise someone walking down the track to Malcolm Marshall. Visualise the response from the fearsome fast bowler.

When Australia faced an incisive English pace attack in the Ashes 2005 in Old Blighty, Hayden was found wanting. He remained vulnerable to deliveries leaving him early in the innings. The crafty Zaheer Khan exploited this chink this home season, hastening Hayden’s departure.

Interestingly, Hayden’s aggression and shot-making ability enabled him to mask some of his technical shortcomings. More often than not, it was the bowler who blinked first.

Hayden also practiced countless hours at the nets. There are several tales revolving around Hayden and the bowling machine. His team-mates in the Chennai Super Kings were astonished at the effort he put into his cricket.

The Queenslander’s commitment came to the fore in World Cup 2007. Hayden braved a fractured toe and a broken foot bone to score 659 runs at 73.22, often during situations of immense significance to his team.

On the flip side, he had this habit of shooting off his mouth. In the arena, he could say things to get under the skin of the opposition.

He will be remembered though as a powerful opener who could thump the ball to the far corners of the field. Matthew Hayden, as McGrath says, will be missed.