Upping the ante

AP

Matthew Hayden has made a career from coming back strong. His second century in four days was merely the most recent evidence. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

It's a measure of the depth in Australia's cricket over the last decade that Matthew Hayden wasn't certain of making the World Cup squad. He went to Malaysia for the DLF Cup tri-series last year, knowing full well he wasn't part of the team for the Champions Trophy. But, Hayden has made a career from coming back strong. His second century in four days was merely the most recent evidence.

After an uncertain start, Hayden upped the ante against the West Indies to finish with 158. He was helped by his captain Ricky Ponting. On a track no other batsmen started well, Ponting counter-attacked with dash. He walked in with Australia at 10 for one. He left having advanced the position by 66 runs, 35 of them his.

In between he created the time and space Hayden needed. Ramnaresh Sarwan ran out Ponting with a sharp bit of fielding. The push into the covers was so well timed that neither Sarwan's weak shoulder nor Ponting's speed over 20 yards compromised the run out.

By the time he reached his 50, Hayden was back to his old ways, menacing down the track to the quick bowlers, charging the spinners, drag-pulling all comers. Having failed to score in his first 17 balls, he accelerated superbly, motoring from 100 to 150 in 27 balls so he eventually finished at better than a run a ball.

"I think I was guessing where my next run was going to come from," Hayden said later, "because it was a pretty vast difference between the conditions in St. Kitts and here. If they do bowl well you're not willing to take a risk. I was just trying to stay calm and make sure when I did take a risk it was going to be in my favour. 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.

"It took a lot to get (back) into this position — and I'm just very pleased for the supporters, selectors and Ricky that it is paying off," he said. "I said when I got dropped a couple of years back that I didn't feel I was ready to let the game go — that world-class players play both forms of the game. I'm just very happy that it's coming off right now. It's a special side to be a part of — and it's never meant to be an easy thing to play for Australia."

Michael Clarke and later Shane Watson complemented Hayden's monumental effort as Australia posted 322.

The West Indies suffered early setbacks, losing three wickets in the first 10 overs. Brian Lara tapped his genius to make 77 attractive runs. But genius needs support and none of his batsmen were either able or willing. Denesh Ramdin scrambled together a half-century; it came too late.

"We are a very good chasing team, but the most important thing about 300-plus totals is that one of the top batters has to bat through," said Lara. "To lose three wickets in under 10 overs was a major setback. Myself and (Ramnaresh) Sarwan had to consolidate and rebuild and that used up a lot of balls. If Australia had made 50-60 runs less, or if there'd been a proper start from the West Indies, it could have been a different game."

Left-arm wrist spinner Brad Hogg took three wickets, including Lara's. "I reckon I was bowling better before the tournament started than I am now, but it's just funny how the wickets drop for you," he said.

For Ponting, Australia 's victory — its 22nd in 23 World Cup matches — was an opportunity to remind critics that his team was still the one to beat.

"Two weeks ago everyone said we weren't frightening, now all of a sudden we are again — it's a funny game," said Ponting. "Our squad hasn't changed in that time. You hear about other sides saying they don't fear us, and don't fear anything we have to offer. Well, it's all right saying that, but you have to go out there and play a certain brand of cricket to back that up. So far they haven't done that."

THE SCORES

Super Eight: West Indies v Australia. Australia won by 103 runs.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Ramdin b Powell 7; M. Hayden c Samuels b Bravo 158; R. Ponting (run out) 35; M. Clarke lbw b Bravo 41; A. Symonds c Ramdin b Samuels 13; M. Hussey b Powell 9; S. Watson (not out) 33; B. Hogg (not out) 5; Extras (b-1, lb-9, w-8, nb-3) 21. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 322.

Fall of wkts: 1-10, 2-76, 3-174, 4-208, 5-234, 6-297.

West Indies bowling: Powell 10-2-53-2; Taylor 10-0-67-0; Collymore 10-0-56-0; Gayle 4-0-29-0; Bravo 7-0-49-2; Samuels 9-0-58-1.

West Indies: C. Gayle c Watson b McGrath 2; S. Chanderpaul lbw b Tait 5; R. Sarwan c Ponting b Hogg 29; M. Samuels c Symonds b McGrath 4; B. Lara lbw b Hogg 77; D. Bravo c Ponting b McGrath 9; D. Ramdin c Gilchrist b Bracken 52; D. Smith lbw b Hogg 9; J. Taylor lbw b Symonds 10; D. Powell b Tait 5; C. Collymore (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, w-15) 16. Total (in 45.3 overs) 219.

Fall of wkts: 1-11, 2-16, 3-20, 4-91, 5-107, 6-156, 7-172, 8-199, 9-217.

Australia bowling: Bracken 9-1-25-1; Tait 7.3-0-43-2; McGrath 8-1-31-3; Watson 7-0-31-0; Hogg 10-0-56-3; Symonds 4-0-32-1.