Collectively, we have failed to understand Mathew Hayden. There are the records and his lofty partnerships with Langer and all that. But that doesn’t nearly convey what Hayden was. Look beyond his savage batting. Think hard! He wasn’t just some merciless big-hitting bloke who swatted aside bowlers akin to a lion removing a hare from its path. Haydos was a lot of character. While cricket thought of him as thunderstorm, he was also bright sunshine.
The real hero for Australia in 2001
Australia’s Tour of India wasn’t any normal series. India exults in joy thinking about its heroics 15 years back. But for Australia, it was a forgettable outing given the sting of back-to-back defeats; Kolkata, 177 runs and Chennai 2 wickets.
This was an Australian team with legends in their heydays- Warne, Waugh twins, McGrath, Slater, Ponting against an India still perhaps weighing heavy on Sachin. Carnage was expected from them. But instead, guys like Dravid- with a career defining 180, Laxman with a Very Very Special 281 and Harbhajan with 32 wickets turned around a corner. Not Australia.
But even in Australia’s capitulation, thanks to famous batsmen failing and Warne and Fleming struggling, one man stood out. That man was Matt Hayden, sadly marginalised as an all out attacking batsman when he was so much more.
Hayden played fire with fire and stood out as a lone battler
A series that began with Australia announcing their intentions, thanks to a 10-wicket victory at Mumbai and ended with successive defeats and some bad media coverage- had Matt Hayden, not Ponting or Waugh as the leading batsman. You can throw in any adjective to glorify big Matt but it won’t suffice. Ever.
Not till you notice that Australia didn’t for once notch up a 500 run mark in any inning whether at Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai and Hayden alone amassed 549 runs – that your respect for this often underrated batsman grows.
Perhaps to the same level of his mighty frame.
Amidst Australia’s struggles Hayden battled alone
Any fan would hail Gilchrist’s 122 at Mumbai in Australia’s win as the best knock. But the purist would rate Hayden’s 119 as the better inning. This was no easy pitch to bat. The ball swung but Hayden was up to it when opponents like Laxman, Dravid and Saurav struggled endlessly.
As the action shifted to Kolkata, scene of Bhajji’s and a Dravid-Laxman special, people didn’t believe what they were seeing. Hayden saw his colleagues crumble all around him. Ponting, Slater, Mark Waugh all fell cheaply. Somehow the total read 445, thanks to a Steven Waugh special. But it was Hayden once again who set the perfect platform through a gutsy 97. By that time Harbhajan had announced that India weren’t going to sit easy.
Then, in the second inning at Kolkata as Australia collapsed haplessly, managing just 212, not a score you expect from a top-ranked side, Hayden alone accounted for 67! That’s nearly 40% of the side’s score!
Hayden’s weapon of choice- the sweep shot
Most Australian batsmen, otherwise able players of spin went down against Harbhajan’s off spinners. They either played across the line or played wildly outside off. You could almost tell Mark Waugh or Adam Gilchrist batted like school boys. And just then you saw Hayden do the complete opposite in contrast to his team- keeping his wits about him. Batting with a purpose- to hold on to an end. Not a sight you’ve often likened to his naturally aggressive batting.
Most importantly, when it came to flexing his burly arms, Hayden didn’t march down the track. He deployed the very shot that most batsmen failed attempting, the sweep. Standing up valiantly to Harbhajan, Hayden swept the offie out of the attack. Every time a quicker one or flighted one was fired down his legs, it was guided it to the boundary.
It became India vs Matt Hayden
Using a calm head, Hadyen helped himself to 164 runs in Kolkata. No mean achievement in a one-sided Test. But here’s the big lesson: Legend has it that, even before arriving in India, big Matt practiced the sweep for 3 months. Practice makes you perfect, it is said.
Hayden did just that!
Going on to strike a double hundred, at Chennai, Hayden showed attacking isn’t all wham-bam cricket. His batting demonstrated that cricket is also about keeping calm in tough times. Through that perfectly executed sweep, he didn’t just conquer Harbhajan but helped erase a bias that’s stuck by: attack when in pressure.
Attacking can’t be true for everyone. Modern cricket has seen Gayle, AB, Sehwag do that from the word go. But Cricket is also about perfecting strokes, about not faltering and about skill. You can be big as a grizzly but not all situations will warrant you to mow down opponents. For this, we must tip our hat out to the big Matt.