Matthew Hayden retired from international cricket in 2009 and 3 years later, after stints in Indian Premier League and Big Bash League, he has now decided to retire from all forms of the game he once dominated.
At the mention of Mathew Hayden’s name, the first thing that comes to mind is the 2001 Australian tour of India. The picture of this muscle-man going down on his left knee and sweeping the Indian spinners from all possible lines and lengths during the epic series, is still fresh in the mind. While every Aussie batsman on that tour struggled to negotiate Harbhajan’s turn and bounce, it was Hayden who had sorted out his technique against the spinners. He had a definite strategy that saw him score 549 runs in those three matches and end up as the highest scorer (an Australian record).
In his autobiography, Hayden familiarizes us with his human side. If he hadn’t done that, the world would have never known that this bully at short-leg, who would sledge the likes of Graeme Smith (a giant himself), had a softer side. With all humility he accepts, that he too, at many stages in his career, had self-doubts, and wondered if he was good enough to be at the Test level. On one occasion, he recounts how his mind kept wandering in the alleys of low self-confidence, while Curtley Ambrose – the raging bull – came charging in his run-up to bowl at him during his initial days of Test cricket. Apparently, Hayden, in his heart, prayed that it would be better for him to get out caught rather than face the embarrassment of getting clean bowled yet again by the great West Indian fast bowler, who had terrorised the Aussies on that particular tour in 1996. Could anyone imagine that it was this that actually went on in the mind of a batsman who ended up with an average of 50.73 in Test matches!
Poor Hayden was never the captain’s favorite. Mark Taylor, the then Aussie captain, always favoured the other Matthew, Matthew Elliot, over Hayden. Although Hayden had scored loads of runs for Queensland, the burden of living up to the expectations of his mates and the tag of not being the skipper’s favourite frequently got the better of him initially. However, after a decent performance in the tour of New Zealand, Hayden got a chance to open the batting in Australia’s 2001 tour to India and this time it was Steve Waugh, the skipper, who backed him to the fullest. He got a match-winning 119 in the first Test at Mumbai, which is often referred to as the “turning” point in his career.
From then on, there was no looking back. There were a few of the odd blips down the lane, but in the end, Matt Hayden had scored enough runs to be rated as one of Australia’s best opening batsmen ever. Hayden broke many batting records in his career. From having the highest score in an innings (380, which Lara surpassed to regain his record) in Tests, to having scored more than 1000 runs in five successive years of international cricket, Haydos did it all. He even held the highest individual ODI score for Australia till Shane Watson broke his record. Apart from his individual brilliance, his association with Justin Langer at the top of the batting order remains second best only to the legendary Greenidge-Haynes pair. The Aussie duo’s (who were quite the opposite in their physical appearance) solid opening partnerships saw their team win many matches and forge a life-long friendship between them.
In one interview, Hayden discloses how he decoded the bowler’s strategy just by having a look at the field setting. He knew exactly what the bowler was up to and what to expect, which explains his customary squatting at the crease and looking around before taking his stance. This was the extent to which he prepared for every challenge. It was no surprise to see a focused Hayden go to the center and do a little batting simulation before every match. There were many occasions when he used to just meditate beside the square, breathe the air, feel the green and sink into the atmosphere, so as to get accustomed to the conditions well before his turn of batting. No wonder this Queenslander had all the mental strength in him to come back from the dead every time he was written off.
Hayden’s batting style changed the face of Test cricket. In a game where the opener needed to see the shine off the ball, Hayden hit the leather off it. He set the trend of going at more than 4.5 runs per over in Test matches (sometimes even more), a trend that brought in more crowds. He was equally adept at leaving the balls outside the off, thus making it very difficult for the bowlers, who could neither get his wicket nor keep the run rate down. He can easily be called the “Viv Richards” among the Test openers.
Be it batting or fielding, the one thing that highlighted Hayden’s career was his attitude and team-manship. The joy of watching his batting partner’s success was all too evident when he lifted Langer in the air, whenever he (Langer) reached a personal milestone. He would back his bowlers by literally getting under the opposition’s skin at short-leg. His slip catching was top drawer; seldom would he drop a catch. He would walk down the track to the fast bowlers, give the ball a clean slap and show the pacers their place.
Arrogance, patience, power, timing, strategy and grit were all packed into this burly unit called Mathew Hayden, who never took a step back whenever a challenge was thrown at him.