It had been a roller-coaster ride for Matthew Hayden leading up to the 2007 World Cup. After being dropped from the Australian one-day side, he hit up his country’s highest individual score in this format only five weeks earlier, an unbeaten 181 against New Zealand at Hamilton.
Then in the previous match he smashed the fastest hundred in the World Cup off the South African bowling. Not only had he answered his critics in the most appropriate manner possible, he had also proved to himself that he was still a world-beater at this level.
He knew just what it took to churn out such performances. "I’m just very happy that it’s coming off now. It’s a special side to be part of - and it’s never meant to be an easy thing to play for Australia," he said at the time.
This quip came after he blazed away to Australia’s highest score in the World Cup in the game against West Indies. No one was sure how the virgin track of the brand new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at North Sound, outside St. John’s, the capital of Antigua, would play. Hayden was scoreless for 17 deliveries.
Adam Gilchrist had already fallen by then, and gradually Hayden and Ponting were able to gauge the wicket. Hayden got his first boundary off the 21st ball that he faced, as he rocketed Jerome Taylor through extra-cover, and he hit the next one too in the same direction for another four.
Still, there was not a hint of the carnage to follow. Ponting was the dominant partner in the second-wicket stand of 66, scoring 35 off 36 balls before being run out by a brilliant direct hit from Ramnaresh Sarwan. Hayden was then on 25 off 43 balls.
The left-hander began to accelerate after the 20th over as his partnership with Michael Clarke realised 98 runs. Hayden hit his first six off Marlon Samuels, straight, stretching and lashing out one-handed. Stroking the same bowler to mid-off later, he brought up his hundred off 110 deliveries.
Hayden struck two consecutive boundaries off Darren Powell in the 41st over, into the V between long-off and long-on. Then as Taylor delivered the 45th over, Hayden slammed one over long-on for a six, then a boundary through extra-cover, and a huge one straight into the stands, off consecutive deliveries.
The blaster was back in business in quite the same style as the legend after whom this stadium is named. There was no stopping Hayden now.
In the very next over he smashed Samuels for two boundaries on the off-side, then a six over mid-wicket. A brief shower held up play for a while, but Hayden returned to immediately slam Corey Collymore through the covers into the fence.
Dwayne Bravo came on now, and off the first delivery Hayden holed out to Samuels at long-off. He had smashed 158 off 143 deliveries with 14 fours and 4 sixes. No Australian had ever scored so many in a World Cup innings.
None of his team-mates got to fifty. Australia finished with 322 for six.
West Indies were never in the hunt, only Brian Lara (77) and Denesh Ramdin (52) putting up some semblance of a fight. Australia triumphed by 103 runs as more rain forced the match into a second day.
Hayden showed what could be achieved by pacing one’s innings intelligently. The Big Bully was back, and on the biggest stage of them all.
Australia 322 for 6 wickets (50 overs), West Indies 219 all out (45.3 overs) (CWC 2007)
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