Sunday, 18 January 2009

Matthew Hayden – The Ultimate Survivor

If you were the type of cricket fan who didn't like Matthew Hayden ask yourself this – would your opinion of him change if he was playing for your team? You wouldn't want this dominant, aggressive batsman piling on the runs for your team? Turning the opposition into complete disarray?

Hayden was a run-scoring machine and departs the game as one of the most successful openers of all time. What is even more remarkable about Hayden's career is how different it ended compared to how it began. Many cricketers fail to cope at the highest level. Some work their way back, but how many work their way back twice?

22 year old Hayden went on the 1993 Ashes Tour and was competing with Michael Slater for the right to open the innings alongside Mark Taylor. Those who like to have a cricket bet felt Hayden had the inside running but Slater outplayed him in the final warm-up match before the First Test and won the nod. Hayden was still in the frame though and made his Test debut in March 1994 against South Africa when Taylor was injured.

Taylor returned for the next Test and it would be another two and a half years until Hayden next wore the Baggy Green. Six Test matches later the selectors weren't bowled over by the Queenslander. This time, his exile in the cricketing wilderness would last three years. Three years during the prime of his career. This would break many athletes but Hayden responded the other way working even harder on his game. He thrived under the tutelage of John Buchanan and was a member of the first Queensland team to win the Sheffield Shield.

When Hayden was recalled at age 28 in 2000 to replace Greg Blewett, most of the cricket betting was that this too wouldn’t be a long stay but Hayden had served his apprenticeship and was ready.

He was older and wiser and produced the series of a lifetime against India in 2001. 549 runs in three matches saw his average soar from an unremarkable 28 to a more respectable 40. From there it continued to climb, ultimately hitting a high of 58.

In the years 2002-03, he was at the peak of his powers with 2472 runs in 23 matches at an average of 75, including a then-world record 380 against Zimbabwe. Hayden tormented cricket bowlers from all over the world. It wasn't just the fact they he was scoring runs, but the intimidating manner in which he went about it.

Just like Steve Waugh and his side disregarded conventional cricket wisdom, so too did Hayden when it came to opening. Openers aren't meant to drive or score boundaries on the opening morning of a Test match, but that didn't bother Hayden. He was responsible for breaking down the opposition bowlers and was successful in doing so. Eventually tactics came around to try and curb him. Short covers and a straighter mid-off were put in place to cut off his scoring areas and it worked, most notably in the 2005 Ashes Series where Hayden only averaged 35. It would have been even less had he not blasted 138 in the final Test.

Hayden thrived from adversity and often went looking for trouble just to fire himself up. It was this quality which didn't endear him to opposition players and fans. Some labeled him arrogant and some called him a bully, but this was a small price to pay for being a run-scoring machine; for being a useful member of the most successful cricket team in history.

Hayden is very good friends with Andrew Symonds and the two share a number of traits. Their early struggles were linked to insecurity, acceptance and a sense of belonging. Once they over came that, taking on the opposition was nothing.

Originally Hayden wanted to play on through the 2009 Ashes Tour and ease the transition for a side which is going through such upheaval. Once Hayden was dropped from the limited-overs side, a three Test tour of South Africa followed by a five Ashes Tests seemed more trouble than it was worth. Why risk tarnishing the legacy? There was also the chance Hayden could have finished the Ashes tour not as a cricketer but as a tourist. Hayden had nothing more to achieve and can look back on his career with the most immense satisfaction possible. The fact that for so long, Hayden's international career seemed like it was certain to end as footnote makes it even more incredible.

David Wiseman is a sports journalist, who writes about cricket and tennis for Betfair Australia . He is particularly looking forward to the Australian Open 2009 and the Ashes.


Tim said...

Great piece.

You make some excellent points - Hayden was clearly a fine player but he did undeniably benefit from the era of poorer bowling and bigger bats. I know this is true of all players in this generation to some extent (and we cannot forget Hayden's superlative tour of India) but he was somewhat exposes against the swinging ball in England and New Zealand.

I rate Sehwag above Hayden - he has often been the sole resistance in a way Hayden very seldom has. All things considered, Hayden, while a very fine player, is probably about on a par with Michael Slater.

Anonymous said...

Tim - Thanks for your kind words. Timing is also a key factor in Hayden's career. When Blewett was dropped he happened to making runs at that time and so got the opening. Look at David Warner now! It's simply incredible how everything has played out. He has gone from nowhere to member of the Australian one-day side. All without having played a single first-class game!

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