Remorseless Hayden relishing bad reputation

Matthew Hayden’s recent comments about Harbhajan Singh have upheld his reputation as Australia’s most unforgiving on-field sledger. By David Hopps.

Matthew Hayden has escaped with a reprimand from Cricket Australia after a Brisbane radio interview in which he vilified the Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh as an “obnoxious weed” and happily imagined teaching their spindly, young fast bowler, Ishant Sharma, a lesson in the boxing ring.

Cricket Australia’s reaction to Hayden’s extraordinary verbal attack was rapid, with punishment meted out within a day, but the lenient nature of their sentence will further antagonise the Indians and ensure that a controversial tour ends with recriminations on all sides.

Harbhajan’s four-Test ban for allegedly racially abusing the Australian batsman, Andrew Symonds, during the Sydney Test was overturned on appeal last month, but Hayden is Symonds’ best buddy — the story where they nearly drowned together while fishing in Queensland is part of Australian folklore — and he has now taken his chance of retribution.

He admitted on Brisbane radio that his on-field battles with Harbhajan had persisted for much of his career and claimed to be fed up with India’s complaints about Australian sledging, depicting them as bad losers. “It’s been a bit of a long battle with Harbhajan,” he said. “The first time I ever met him he was the same little obnoxious weed that he is now. His record speaks for itself in cricket. There is a certain line that you can kind of go to and then you know where you push it and he just pushes it all the time. That’s why he has been charged more than anyone that’s ever played in the history of cricket.”

Australia’s sledging culture has insulted Indian self-esteem and they have taken a stand which could yet have long-term ramifications. ICC chief executives meeting in Kuala Lumpur bowed to Indian pressure to clamp down on on-field abuse. The ICC is writing to umpires and match referees to instruct them to take stronger action.

But if the cricket world really is changing, Hayden does not seem to have cottoned on. He revels in his reputation as Australia’s most unforgiving on-field sledger — many England players privately view him as a loudmouthed bully — and now it seems that he intends to rubbish some opponents off the field as well as on it.

It is striking behaviour from a man who talks regularly about himself as a committed Christian; presumably more fundamentalist than pacifist. He has just won an award as Australia’s best one-day player of the year. His outburst has received predictable approval from many Australian sports fans on web forums.

After an official Indian protest, Cricket Australia charged Hayden under Rule 9 of their Code of Behaviour, which prohibits “detrimental public comment”. The hearing took place in Melbourne before Ron Beazley, CA’s code of conduct commissioner and a former senior legal adviser to Victoria’s attorney general. Hayden issued his own statement after the hearing. “I maintain my innocence,” he said. “My intentions were never to denigrate cricket or anyone. That said, the umpire has made his decision and, in the spirit of our own code of behaviour and our great game of cricket, I respect and accept this decision.”

Hayden’s radio comments about Ishant Sharma attracted no official enquiry, but in their way they were more bizarre. Ishant, India’s fast-bowling find of the tour, clashed with both Hayden and Symonds in an ODI in Hobart, giving Symonds a send-off after he was dismissed, but he was fined only 15 per cent of his match fee when the match referee, New Zealander Jeff Crowe, accepted that Symonds might have provoked him.

Hayden said of Ishant: “He is just young. I have said to him many times, ‘You are 19, take it easy’. He is 19, why doesn’t he just worry about his bowling for a while? I like the idea of actually getting into the ring. I like that, let’s bring that one on.”