Hayden takes the spotlight

Even after Australia had battled through injuries, fatigue and bad weather to remove a stubborn Zimbabwean tail and claim the first Test in Perth, all the talk was still of Matthew Hayden.

MALCOLM CONN

Matthew Hayden dispatches a ball to the boundary, being simply irresistible on his way to a world record 380. The Zimbabwean bowlers suffered heavily at the hands of this big-hitter. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

Even after Australia had battled through injuries, fatigue and bad weather to remove a stubborn Zimbabwean tail and claim the first Test in Perth, all the talk was still of Matthew Hayden.

Steve Waugh, one of the greatest players and captains of all time, was in awe of his opening batsman's world record score of 380.

"Matty's was a phenomenal innings,'' Waugh said after rain and some unexpected resistance forced the Test into a fifth day before Australia claimed victory by an innings and 175 runs.

"Just to watch it and to be a part of that partnership out there, sometimes you watch him bat and you say `I can't believe that anyone can bat any better than this.'

Andy Bichel celebrates after castling Sean Ervine of Zimbabwe. Bichel finished with six wickets in the match. -- Pics. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

"His clean ball striking and placement was magnificent as well so it was a pleasure just to watch it.

"I've always rated Matty pretty highly. Right now he's the best batsman in the world. I think most players would agree with that.''

Given that Hayden has scored seven centuries in the past year, it is difficult to find a better-performed player

"When he gets hundreds he scores them quickly and dominates the opposition. He sets the tone for the rest of the innings.

"He sets up matches, which not a lot of players do. He'll go down as one of the all-time greats. There's no doubt about that.''

Rarely can a captain have regretted more the decision to send an opposition in than Zimbabwe's Heath Streak in Perth.

Like England captain Nasser Hussain in the opening Test at Brisbane's `Gabba the year before, Streak made a wild gamble.

It is difficult to know exactly how much of their decisions were based on attempting to exploit any early life in wickets which can be fast-bowler friendly and how much they feared the early damage Australia's pace attack could cause.

Hayden made Streak pay dearly, setting up his innings by batting patiently to tea for 76 then exploding to be unbeaten on 183 as Australia went to stumps on the first day at 3 for 372. Streak later conceded Hayden had batted Zimbabwe out of the match long before that.

"It was awesome,'' Streak said of Hayden's innings.

"The first day we stuck to our plans and he grafted hard for his hundred.

"He was just timing the ball superbly, hitting some balls on the up that most batsmen would block back at us.

"The confidence grew and he just kept timing it better and better, harder and harder.

"It was hard to bowl to a plan because even your good balls were going.

"It was an amazing innings. Obviously it wasn't good being on the receiving end of it but we've got to admire what he's done.

"In a way it was special to be part of that. I've never seen someone hit the ball as consistently well and as hard as that. He was miss-timing sixes.

Adam Gilchrist sends this one to the fence. Gilchrist's century paled in comparison to Hayden's world record knock. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

"We had a lot of admiration for him but it was pretty difficult for us.

"We had to try and be patient. Where you could normally pull things back and set a field and bowl pretty straight and back of a length, he was lambasting those back over the bowler's head for boundaries.

"It was hard to try and keep him tied up and set a defensive field.''

With Zimbabwe forced to follow on almost 500 behind and two wickets down in their second innings at stumps on the third day it appeared the match was charging to a rapid conclusion. This proved not to be the case.

By the fourth afternoon Australia was forced to pursue victory with their only two remaining fron<147,4,1>tline bowlers, Brett Lee and Andy Bichel, forced out of the attack.

With only one wicket needed by Australia to win under lights amid rain and gloom, umpires Venkat and Peter Willey told Waugh he could no longer use his pacemen, before rain forced a second and final stoppage.

Zimbabwe went to stumps at nine for 272 and with the forecast uncertain, were hoping for a miracle.

Australia would have already claimed victory if Steve Waugh had taken a difficult catch running and diving to his left at cover off number 11 Ray Price.

The parlous state of Zimbabwe cricket was highlighted again on that fourth day when Darren Lehmann claimed three wickets for the first time in his career as an injury-riddled Australia continued their domination.

A useful bit-part one-day bowler with his left-arm tweakers, Lehmann was thrust into the role of front-line spinner when Stuart MacGill was forced off the field with a strained calf.

Lehmann had claimed only four previous Test wickets and never bowled more than eight overs in an innings.

With Jason Gillespie also missing with a side strain Zimbabwe had the chance to dig in on a flat pitch with most of the overs being bowled by part timers.

Instead the batting capitulated again once a third-wicket partnership of 99 between Mark Vermeulen (63) and Stuart Carlisle (35) was broken.

Zimbabwe lost five for 16 against an attack with only two front-line bowlers before some sensible batting by the tail dragged the score into respectable territory.

Jason Gillespie is jubilant, while the dejected Dion Ebrahim walks back to the pavilion. Gillespie had his share of wickets. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

All the fast bowlers contributed more than most of the batsmen, with Sean Ervine hitting 53 from 98 balls with seven fours and a six and Andy Blignaut making 22.

Vermeulen batted well for his second half century in his fourth Test. Resuming on 50 he played with comfort and confidence, lifting one delivery from Lehmann into the second level of the Lillee-Marsh stand.

He was unlucky to be given out caught behind by umpire Willey to a shortball from Brett Lee, which appeared to be closer to shirt than glove on the way through to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist.

A short time later Carlisle was caught at slip by Matthew Hayden off the back of his bat sweeping ill advisedly at a ball from Lehmann, Craig Wishart (8) played across a straight ball from Bichel to be leg before wicket, Craig Evans (5) somehow missed a straight ball from Lehmann to be bowled and Tatenda Taibu (3) was caught behind poking at a Bichel delivery.

Waugh woke on the fifth morning to more rain and wondered if the weather would rob Australia of a victory.

"The rain was menacing,'' Waugh said later. "There was a thought in the back of my mind that maybe we're not going to get there, but you've just got to keep going forward.

Adam Gilchrist does a neat job and Andrew Blignaut is stumped off Darren Lehmann's bowling. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

"Luckily the breeze blew the clouds over a couple of times and we got some opportunities.''

Once again the under-manned Zimbabweans proved there were times when they could punch above their weight, with Streak and Price adding 74 for the last wicket in more than two hours spread across two days and several rain breaks.

When Price was finally out caught by Waugh diving to his right at mid-off to give Bichel a well-deserved fourth wicket, Streak was left unbeaten on 71 — an innings that lasted three and a half hours.

"We obviously fought hard to save a bit of face. It was good determination from the guys,'' Streak said later.

"A few of our batters will be disappointed having got out to some soft dismissals given we took the match well into the fifth day.

"If we'd been a little bit more focused and worked harder who knows what could have happened.''

The Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist is elated as the Zimbabwe batsman, Craig Evans, is bowled by Darren Lehmann. -- Pic. AFP-

Despite coming to the wicket with more than a day and a half to play, Streak harboured hopes, however faint, of saving the match.

"Obviously Brett Lee and Andy Bichel had been bowling a long time. We were just trying to get through them and be patient. Not looking for scoring shots and hope for the best with the rain,'' he said.

"There were times — but it would have been an amazing feat. We would have needed some weather helping us out there.

"Australia thoroughly deserved their victory. From after tea on day one we were out of the Test.''