Matthew Hayden talks about his career, changing the approach to opening batting, his memorable moments, Sachin Tendulkar and a lot more in an exclusive chat with CricketCountry’s Correspondent Nishad Pai Vaidya.
Matthew Hayden has been one of the finest opening batsmen in the modern era with 8,625 Test runs and 30 tons. In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he amassed 6,133 runs at an average of 43.80. He always had this intimidating presence in the middle and the bowlers would dread the sight of him nonchalantly walking down the ground and bludgeoning them over the top. One of the most feared batsmen during his time, Hayden was part of the world beating Australian unit that tasted glory in Tests and ODIs in the 2000s. In many ways, he revolutionised the approach to opening the batting in Tests with his power-game and dominating intent.
Off the field, Hayden is an affable personality and a delight to chat with. He loves his food and enjoys traveling to India. This writer caught up with Hayden during his ongoing visit to the country and spoke to him about his career and his most memorable moments.
CricketCountry (CC): Can you tell us about your early days and growing up? Was cricket your natural choice?
Matthew Hayden (MH): Yes, it was. It was an outlet growing up in a very small country town on a substantial cattle and agricultural property. Our house block was 10 acres and our backyard pretty much occupied our own cricket wicket. With his tractor, my father ended up rolling a wicket. My brother, Gary, would come home from school every afternoon and mow the grass and roll the wicket without fail. It would be game on until there was no more light. Those days are very happy memories. Gary is five years elder to me and we just loved our own space and time. Because he was elder to me, I learnt to be competitive at a very young age. People in life are shaped by their childhood and mine was an incredibly free spirited with a beautiful country and a playground. We were deeply rooted in Catholic faith and principles of the land. My father being a primary producer gave me great connection to regional Australia and my mother was a speech and drama teacher. The values have helped me stay grounded throughout my career.
CC: We all want to know the secret to that strength which allowed you to hit those big sixes. Was it because you lived in an agricultural property and the background?
MH: Yes, I worked very hard. We lived on quite a hilly location. So, when I wasn’t playing cricket, I was working the property or the land. I also used to hunt. There was a lot of running and walking which gave me the stamina that I required later on. I was a very strong boy and that was purely because of hard work.
CC: In 1989, you first played for the Queensland Under-17s and gradually made a mark for senior side in 1991 when you hit a ton on First-Class debut against South Australia. You had amazing records there in your first two seasons. How difficult was your progress as you weren’t from the big city?
MH: First of all, I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I won’t refute the fact that I was out there to play for Australia. My situation was quite similar to some of the players in the Indian side. You had a plethora of players who were ahead of me. The likes of Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Steve and Mark Waugh, David Boon and Allan Border were in the Australian side. It was like [Rahul] Dravid, [Sourav] Ganguly, [VVS] Laxman, [Sachin] Tendulkar, [Virender] Sehwag had kept out for a longer period of time someone like a Shikhar Dhawan, who has got immense talent but wasn’t able to play and could have potentially been lost to regional cricket. But as they say, cream rises to the top and I did get my opportunities after delivering outstanding results for Queensland, Hampshire, Northamptonshire and in any Australia A games before playing at the highest level. I always had a set of ethos, and it did not matter where I was playing as I maintained it as I wanted to give my best on any given day and improve.
CC: How crucial was the experience of being on the Ashes tour in 1993. You did score a lot of runs against the counties, but did not play the Tests?
MH: Every game at that stage of my career was crucial because the selectors actually got it right. I wasn’t ready for international cricket then and my weaknesses got found out in the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) I played before the Ashes. What it did was that it enabled me to use David Boon, Allan Border, Mark and Steve Waugh as fantastic deans of cricket faculty. I would take every ounce of golden tricks and tips from them and then not only was I able to commit to them, but also play games with them. So, they were actually my coaches and I spent enormous time in the middle. Damien Martyn and I had got more than a 1,000 runs on that tour, something that hadn’t been achieved before playing Tests in an Ashes series. It was an amazing learning process. I went back to the next summer a much better player — a more all-round cricketer, playing both spin and fast bowling, and an excellent fielder. It also gave me a strong passion and commitment to play for Australia on a more consistent and regular basis. It was invaluable to me.
CC: In 1994, you made your Test debut at Johannesburg. It wasn’t an easy ride for you, but in your third Test you smashed 125 against a strong West Indian attack. What were the difficulties you faced in your early international career?
MH: Under pressure, I learnt how I could handle those challenges posed by international cricket. That wasn’t easy by any stretch of imagination. When your career is on the line and you are batting for it almost every Test match, there is different pressure to it when you have played 80-odd Tests and got 20 tons behind you. I remained consistent in my approach to the game and attitude. I committed to get better as a player and as a person every day, to manage my own expectations ahead of the fans’, media, selector’s or my fellow colleagues’ expectations. It was an enormous challenge considering the fact that I was playing amongst greatness all the time. Finally, I think I had to learn to deal with change on a daily basis. Change because I did not want to play like Mark Taylor, but I wanted to play like Matthew Hayden. I wanted to take my own piece of history and shape the way that the opening batsmen would play the game during my era. I wanted to forge some new territory in terms of how to approach batting as an opener in one-day cricket, and also take batting to a new level in T20 cricket. I was very fortunate to play three formats of the game and to take the learnings and approach each of them in entirely new ways. So, dealing with change was the highlight of my international career.
CC: You just spoke about adjusting to change and bringing in a new approach to opening the batting in all formats. That brings me to this question. We often would hear the old saying that the openers should see off the first hour, give it to the bowler and then take charge. However, you attacked from the word go and in a way revolutionized opening batting in Test cricket. What was it that brought that about? Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and Tillakaratne Dilshan carried that approach forward.
MH: I revered the names you just mentioned for their attacking strokeplay. In my case, it was a blend of playing on bouncy wickets in Australia and knowing when to attack and retreat, absorbing pressure for the benefit of the team. It was about building innings over a long period of time, but there might be certain moments, maybe two or three overs, where I felt I could take on a more dominant role to get the momentum of the game and help Australia move forward. At the very start of the innings, I felt it was one of those periods where I could be a little more attacking to put the opposition on the backfoot. I had the benefit of actually leading the batting line-up and to give our unit a higher momentum going into their separate and individual innings. I felt that was worthy of taking a risk at that stage.
MH: Justin and I have very similar values. Personally, we have an amazing rapport. I was always inspired by Justin as an individual, his work and sense of camaraderie, his commitment to being a team player and his incredible sense of understanding of the game both as an individual and as a culture. This led to an immediate attraction to Justin. From the batting point of view, it just continued and there was no reason why anything had to change when we were batting together. There was that understanding as a partnership and for the team’s cause. It is a wonderful friendship.
CC: In one-day cricket, your partner was Adam Gilchrist. You were the most feared opening combination in ODIs. What were you strategies? Did you always attack at both ends?
MH: I think the strength of the partnership was that it would play to conditions and we would play off each other well. Adam, on his day, it was just worth standing at the other end and giving him the strike. Basically, let him to his thing. Other days, I would be the more aggressive batsman and it centered around our own individual rhythms of the game. Sometimes he would be in timing and rhythm, other days I would do it. So we would assess each other on the day. We would rotate strike and get the more dominant player to face as much as possible. Our strength was that we kept the game very simple.
CC: After the 1997 tour to South Africa, you had to wait for nearly three years for your next game. It is famously known that you went to Chennai and practiced against spin. How crucial was that stint for you and what else did you do to fine tune your batting when you were away from the side?
MH: The Chennai stint was amazingly crucial. It was a period where I didn’t do too much batting, but I learnt from Bishan [Singh] Bedi and Venkat (Srinivas Venkataraghavan) what the mindset of a spinner is and how they set their fields with their captains to execute game plan. I was able to take that information and shape my own batting strategies based on what they said. I was then able to practice those at every level and develop those strategies as I was also playing in England a lot on turning wickets with very two young spinners Jason Brown and the now great Graeme Swann in my side at Northamptonshire. I just developed the strength over a long period of strength and I got a lot of runs before coming back around 2001.
CC: Prior to the 2001 tour, you did play the home Test series against West Indies. But, you really shone in India. You essayed a career changing knock at Mumbai. How does that innings rank alongside the ton you scored at Chennai in the third Test?
MH: I think the double hundred at Chennai and I felt it was an amazing innings. It was also an amazing innings of endurance. As you know, Chennai is a very very hot place and it is very easy to get sidetracked by the loss of energy and it is a battle of attrition. Yes, that was a great innings and is one of my favourites. I remember the very first time, which was much before that Test, I was walking out to bat at Chepauk, and I turned to my partner and said, I am going to get a Test hundred here one day. We laughed it off a bit because I wasn’t so much in the run to play for Australia at that stage. It is an amazing lesson for me because you have to be careful what you think about because it comes to manifest itself. And then, to go and make a double at that ground was something special. To live in Chennai, play for the Chennai Super Kings, have an affinity with that ground and a real connection with the people of Chennai was something which was beyond my expectations as a junior player.
CC: It was also then that you had said that “I have seen god and he bats at number four for India”. Now that Sachin Tendulkar is calling it a day, what do you have to say about him and what is your outstanding memory?
MH: He has carried the weight of a cricketing nation and dare I say the nation for 24 years. Because of Sachin Tendulkar, the economy and the people of India have grown in stature during that period of time to the superpower they are as of today. And there was this rich cricketing greatness in that period under Sachin’s league as an international player. He carries the belief and the hopes in the Indian people’s hearts. That is an amazing historical record. There have been few people who have transcended the game as well as he has. The first time I came up against Sachin Tendulkar, I expected him to be a colossal individual. When I saw him, he was so small. But, his bat seemed to be almost bigger than him. His most defiant innings was during the 2003-04 tour at Sydney. During that 241 not out at Sydney, he did not play a shot outside the off-stump for about five hours. I thought that was an amazing innings. Not many players are great away from home, but Sachin could play all over the world.
CC: In 2001-02, your game reached a new level. You were prolific throughout and scored many tons. What was it that had changed for you? And what was it like being in a world beating unit? How much of an effect does it have on your confidence?
MH: Cricket is about momentum and confidence; they feed on each other. When you start to get a run of success, your confidence just grows. Look at Rohit Sharma for example. His confidence has grown and has achieved something (referring to the ton at Jaipur in the second ODI). This is the beauty of life. When you achieve something which you didn’t think was possible, you get so much momentum and pleasure out of achieving further. That was the case that year. You dream of something and you go beyond your dream to rise above your own expectations and deliver something special and unique. As a person you grow and are so joyful.
CC: The icing on the cake was the 2003 World Cup victory. You had an unbeaten run in 2003 and 2007. But, on a personal note, wasn’t the 2007 World Cup a better experience for the number of runs you scored?
MH: I loved both the experiences and they were fabulous journeys. During both World Cups, we had an amazing side, one that was ruthless in its campaign. It just didn’t miss a beat for eight weeks. That was fantastic to be a part of.
CC: In the middle of 2005, you had the tough Ashes tour, but bounced back by scoring tons at The Oval and then against the ICC World XI. When compared to the previous comebacks, how difficult was this one?
MH: It was a circuit breaker. There was pressure on my position for the first time after a long time. There was a side that had worked out a strategy to keep me out of the game. Then, I tried to play with an aggressive strategy to counter the negative bowling. Bit like Sachin, I was tired of the disappointment of not actually producing runs like he was in Australia in 2003-04 before that double at Sydney. I just thought I am going to take it simple here, wear the opposition out and bat for a very long period of time because I know that I am capable of doing that and score runs. That led to an incredible resurgence in my Test career and also a very successful Ashes campaign which came after we had narrowly lost it in 2005. It was a beautiful stage in my career.
CC: The 2006-07 Ashes was not only important from a performance point of view, but it also was an emotional. Wasn’t it like that with the likes of Damien Martyn, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer calling it a day?
MH: It was. And they called it a day way too early I reckon. It is a frustrating period when players are so good, but they get so much pressure that they just lose the fight. All of those players went on to play a lot more cricket. Shane played four Indian Premier League (IPL) seasons and was dominant for a major part. Damien Martyn went on to play more Indian Cricket League (ICL) and other cricket. Justin Langer played county cricket and Glenn McGrath was also there at the IPL. They had probably achieved all that they wanted to, but it was possible that they could have played beyond the years they actually finished.
CC: Just before 2007 World Cup, you were fighting for form and Daniel Vettori dropped your catch in an ODI at Perth where you went on to score a ton. And later, you took one-day batting to a new level. Had your approach to ODI cricket changed?
MH: I was really working towards the World Cup a long way out. My batting strategies were different in Australia and I was trying to get used to a pattern of play I wanted to have in the West Indies. The results did not come my way in Australia as I had the wrong game plan. I had a West Indian game plan as opposed to an Australian one. I am glad that the selectors and Ricky Ponting decided to persist with me because I was focused on winning a World Cup for the team, not only a tri-series in Australia. That paid dividends although it was a bit frustrating in the lead-up. But, who cares really as the writing is on the wall. I had a record breaking world cup and we won it. We clinched it in amazing fashion remaining unbeaten and everybody contributed to that win which was amazing.
CC: You retired from international cricket in early 2009. How tough was that decision? You too went on to play more and did well in the IPL — winning the Orange Cap in 2009.
MH: Yes, it was an easier decision for me I think that what it would have been for Glenn, Warnie (Shane Warne), Marto (Damien Martyn) and Justin. This is because I had sort of lost a lot of my friends, so apart from Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee, the old guard wasn’t in that space anymore. Gilly (Adam Gilchrist) had also gone. I was just feeling like, “My mates have gone. Why am I still playing?” So, it was probably an easier decision. To break the grounds at the IPL, be a founding member at the Chennai Super Kings , to win the IPL and the Champions League T20 (CLT20), I felt I could do nothing more in the game. I was happy to retire post our Champions League in South Africa in 2010. I had done everything I could possibly do in the game. I knew it was time.
CC: What are your thoughts on captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership? You did play with him for three seasons.
MH: I loved those three seasons as much as I loved MS Dhoni. He is a fantastic human being and carries all the weight on his shoulders for the nation. His strengths are that he is very loyal; he keeps the game in simple and believes in the other team members. His belief personally and collectively makes him successful as a captain. He is a very social individual and that allows him to build a culture based on camaraderie. That is something that is unique to his leadership. He has an open doors policy and people appreciate that.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)