Former Australian opener Matthew Hayden spoke about Australia’s tour of India in 2001 and how it was a crucial series for him personally as a Test batsman and how he went on to top score for his team during that famous series.
The burly former cricketer, who is a part of the ongoing series between the two sides as a commentator, spoke to bcci.tv about how he transformed himself into one of the best players of spin bowling on tricky Indian tracks.
“There are moments in everyone’s career when you look back and think that it was a critical point in your career. For me it was the 2001 India series. I was either going to be accepted into the Australian cricket team as a permanent member or I was going to go back and play Shield cricket, county cricket and do all the things that I did in the lead up to the series,” he said.
During that tour, Hayden took the attack to the Indian spinners on that tour — Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh — and batted aggressively against them, unlike the rest of the players who were playing cautiously.
“A lot of batsmen stand on the other side of spin and look to just play it down their feet and guide the ball through point or covers with soft hands. But the way I batted, when you say soft hands, it doesn’t mean anything to me whatsoever. In fact, if I decided to play with soft hands, my hands would get harder. For me it was all about using my height, reach and footwork – even for a big person I had quite nimble feet – and all the assets that I was given from the athletic point of view,” he said.
Hayden used his build very well as his height allowed him to get to the pitch of the ball on every single occasion. He used the sweep shot very well against the spinners and it helped him unsettle them in a big way.
Talking about that, he said, ” I think the horizontal bat shot was something I took from Allan Border and Bob Simpson, who were instrumental in telling me, ‘You really need to have some scoring options. Have you thought about the sweep shot?’ They taught me the basics of it – keeping the head in line of the ball, hitting through the ball and also when not to hit it. The areas behind square are much safer options than the ones in front of square. You have to assess the conditions before pulling out that shot. There’s no point playing the sweep when the ball isn’t turning. You need the ball to turn a lot to create a doubt in the umpire’s mind when you miss it. Assessing the risk level was a good foundation to understand when to and when not to play it. The sweep is often a premeditated shot; you just know that it is on. That gets into your consciousness and you start to play accordingly.”
He also recollected a few verbal battles with a young Harbhajan, who went on to be the most crucial bowler for India in that series. Hayden had a specific game plan for him.
About that, he said, ” My battles with Harbhajan [Singh] started in a warm-up game. I didn’t want to give him any indication of my abilities. So, I had a very defensive game plan and I wanted to see if I could survive against him without revealing my arsenal. He came up to me and politely mentioned just how disappointed he was that a player of my credentials was even considered to play for Australia. I took all that on board and he actually dismissed me that day as well. I think off his second or third ball in the Test, I came down the wicket and hit him with ease over extra-cover and asked him, ‘How’s my ability now?’ I loved playing against Harbhajan and Anil [Kumble]. They’re highly competitive individuals and I love to compete – it’s my comfort zone, my dal in Indian cuisine, where I can play around and have fun.”
Hayden also felt that to be able to play in India with conviction, he needed to adapt himself technically.
“I made a change in my stance and grip as well when batting in India. I opened the face of the bat a bit more – you tend to close the bat’s face in Australia because you don’t want anything angling across the bat and get caught out in the slips. But, even if the mind knows what to do, the body doesn’t obey sometimes because it is patterned to react in a certain way. When an Australian batsman comes to India, where you have to present your feet at the ball and give your bat the opportunity to get access to the ball – it is completely different to what you do in Australia, where you’re looking to cover your stumps by going to the off side and then you can leave the ball. That’s why it’s very important that in the initial days of your tour here, you review your basic technique and give it the allowance to adjust to the nuances of a particular venue. It’s not easy because under pressure you tend to go back to what you know.”
Despite his excellent form with the bat, Australia succumbed to a series defeat in 2001 and Hayden felt that it took his team a while to recover from the disappointment.
“As a team, we were really confident coming to India in 2001. We had an outstanding batting line-up, a fantastic bowling attack, a fine wicketkeeper – there were simply no chinks in our armour. We believed that that tour was made for us to win. It was our time. When we didn’t win that series it was incredibly disappointing and it took us a while to recover from it. It also made us very determined to come back three years later and win.”
Hayden also said that the loss spurred them on to review the series and iron out the frailties and come back strong at India in 2004. He felt that they did well to do so and emerged victorious in the 2004 tour of India.
“We reviewed what let us down in 2001 and found that our fast bowling unit was regimented to bowling the Australian lines and lengths. Hence we just kept on getting hurt on the off-side. So, when we came back in 2004, we strictly decided to bowl stump-to-stump with heavy on-side fields. Our bowlers absolutely executed everything for us. That series wasn’t as successful for me personally. On that tour, I felt more like a coach. I wasted a lot of my personal energy and absorbed the team’s needs. I was very proud to win that series (Australia won the 2004-05 series in India 2-1 under the captaincy of Adam Gilchrist).”