Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 30 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (35. Matthew Hayden)

('Don's Century' is a book on the cricket career and life of Don Bradman, paying tribute to him in 2008, the year of his birth centenary. It is also a panorama of batting from the 1860s onwards featuring 35 of the greatest batsmen and discussing whether Don Bradman was indeed the greatest of them all).

For long his colleague Matthew Hayden sizzled in the first-class game, but fizzled at the highest level. His successes for Queensland did not translate into performances of any note for Australia. His first stint was mediocre and he was dropped. The big man continued to persevere, scoring heavily in domestic cricket, finally making his breakthrough at the age of 29 in the 2000-01 series in India. It has been forgotten that in that big turnaround in the Kolkata Test, engineered by the Herculean partnership between V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, Hayden was a star performer for Australia with scores of 97 and 67. Since then the southpaw did not look back. Each year from 2001 to 2005 he hit up 1000 Test runs. Forging highly successful left-handed opening partnerships, with Adam Gilchrist in the One-dayers and Justin Langer in Tests, Hayden played a key role in Australia’s golden run.

The big bully advanced menacingly down the pitch, almost intimidating the bowlers like a giant caveman brandishing a chunky club. He did actually club the ball with his booming drives, rasping cuts and thundering pulls. The most menacing hitter since Ian Botham, Hayden slammed pacemen and spinners alike. His one weakness was his tendency to play a shot too many in his quest to dominate the bowling, thereby often giving his wicket away.

In their heyday this century, the Australians came to be hailed for their quick scoring. This was mainly courtesy the rousing starts Hayden gave with his partners. In the Tests they would hammer the new ball around and Australia invariably clocked four runs an over. In the shorter version, Hayden and Gilchrist would knock up six to seven runs an over in the first fifteen overs with the field in. That was the foundation for the incredible success Australia achieved during his fruitful days at the top of the order.

Hayden’s moment of euphoria, of course, was when he broke Lara’s Test record, blasting 380 against Zimbabwe at Perth on October 10, 2003. The bowling may have been ordinary, but it was a terrific display of hitting. Hayden struck 38 fours and 11 sixes - 218 in boundaries alone - off just 437 balls in 10 hours and 22 minutes. He took 208 deliveries to reach his hundred, and then just 229 more for the rest of his 280 runs. The Perth wicket was not as fast and bouncy as of yore, and with the ball coming nicely on to the bat, Hayden made merry. India’s former captain S. Venkataraghavan, who was umpiring that match told The Times of India, “He’s just so uninhibited. Nothing seemed to bother him.”

Just over six months later on April 12, 2004 Lara snatched the record back. Hayden bludgeoned his way through to 8625 runs at an average of 50.73 with 30 hundreds in his 103 Tests. In the One-dayers Hayden slammed 6133 runs at an average of 43.80, and a strike-rate of 78.96. An essential part of Ponting’s all-conquering World Cup team, Hayden hit the then fastest century in the competition off 66 balls against South Africa at St. Kitts in 2007. He also had the highest aggregate in that tournament with 659 runs at an average of 73.22 with three hundreds in 11 matches. One of the hardest hitting opening batsmen in history, Hayden’s contribution to Australian cricket has been matched by few.

These have been some of the very best batsmen down history. Others like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Virender Sehwag will surely find their way in history. It is remarkable how the name Bradman keeps cropping up while discussing most of them. This is indicative of the standards Bradman set, and against which most batsmen are rated. Some of the top-class batsmen of the modern era like, to name a few, Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq, who rendered yeomen service to Pakistan in contrasting styles, but did not quite stir the senses consistently; and Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis and Mohammad Yousuf, technically sound and prolific scorers, but rarely dominant; have not been discussed at length in these pages. In terms of figures they have been close to the top, but inspirational they have seldom been. Indeed Kallis has an allround Test record that has now surpassed the multi-faceted Sobers, and at similar averages! But it would be hard to place Kallis in the same league as Sobers. The very great players have an aura quite distinct.

Statistically, nobody has been able to remotely challenge Bradman and, in a paradox to the Sobers-Kallis reasoning, it is difficult to anoint another batsman as being greater than The Don. Bradman was indeed unique, matchless - to put it in corporate parlance - in terms of output, quality, productivity and profitability, a winner and a leader by a long, long way.

(Statistics in Don’s Century are updated till 27th August 2011, the 103rd birth anniversary of Sir Donald Bradman).

Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla.

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books 
published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf   ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket   ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century   ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory   ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Available online on several websites.

Distributed in India by :  
Variety Book Depot 
AVG Bhawan, 
M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus,
New Delhi-110 001, India. 
Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567.

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