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Interview: Matthew Hayden

October 3, 2007

Purple patch: five of Hayden’s ten ODI hundreds have come this year, and he isn’t slowing down any

Damien Martyn retired at 35. He confessed that the challenge of international cricket called for “people who are more than 100% committed, dedicated, disciplined and passionate about the game”. Matthew Hayden is fast closing in on 36. And he possesses in abundance the qualities his former team-mate listed. Don’t bother asking him if he has a valedictory speech lined up for anytime soon.

“I can give you an answer, but it’ll be a flippant answer,” Hayden says when the subject is brought up. “As long as I’m enjoying the game, and stay in good touch with the game, I’ll play,” he said in Bangalore before the first game of the Future Cup.

Tall and bear-like, Hayden’s eyes look at you with an intensity that burns. Ask him a question and the answer does not come at the breakneck speed with which he dispatches the ball on the field. He gives the matter his full consideration first.

It has been an extraordinarily plush year for Hayden so far. In February he made a masterful 181 not out against New Zealand in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, the highest individual score in ODIs since October 2005, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni made 183 against Sri Lanka. Of his ten career ODI hundreds, five have come this year. His 1364 runs from 26 games are 310 more than second-placed Mahela Jayawardene, who has played two more matches. Unsurprisingly Hayden has hit the most sixes in 2007 so far, 33. He was the top run-getter at the World Cup, and for good measure also in the World Twenty20, supposedly a young man’s game.

All this from a man who was dropped from the side in the wake of the 2005 Ashes and only played two ODIs the following year, before being recalled for the CB Series early this year where he stuttered initially but hung on to finish strongly with two fifties and a hundred in his last five matches. Just how did Hayden reinvent himself?

“It’s a bit of a fallacy that I’ve reinvented myself,” he says. “I just have had a particularly good run. I’ve played 150 one-day games [147 to date], my record’s been consistent the whole time really – probably been exceptional over the last six months or so. What you’re saying is, I’ve had a really good run of form.”

That may have something to do with the fact that he has begun to spend more time at the crease. “I’ve been batting longer and that way it sort of gives us a platform and gives me the opportunities to score big scores. The pace of my innings has been good, I’ve picked target players, I’ve summed up the conditions well – it’s just experience and not that my skills have improved or anything.”

The English cricket media, among others, have in the past written off Australia’s old dogs at their own peril – most notably just about a year ago when Ricky Ponting’s men were lampooned as a Dad’s Army ripe for the toppling. Instead the Australians just seem to get better with age: Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist and Michael Hussey are all still at their peaks; all four figure in the top ten of the ICC ODI rankings.

That is not to say that there isn’t fresh blood coming through. There is, and Hayden, for one, likes the idea of being kept on his toes. Moreover, the elder-statesman role is one he enjoys. “Firstly I stay fit and motivated. Younger guys coming in make it a fresher environment. In addition I see my role as mentor to some of the guys, in particular the young batsmen, so that keeps me fresh in the mind.”

He may well have one of these youngsters opening the batting with him in Tests soon. Australia’s first Test against Sri Lanka in November will be the first in years where Hayden won’t be opening with Justin Langer, with whom he paired up in 64 Tests (of which Australia won 46). How much is the absence of his long-time partner going to matter?

“For sure, yeah, I’ll miss him,” Hayden says. “Justin was such a solid human being and a wonderful little tenacious cricketer. He had a lot of skills which you really do need as an opener. It’s gonna be an interesting time, a challenging time, to get used to another partner.”

Does he think Australia need to take the plunge and opt for a young player like Phil Jaques or Chris Rogers at the top of the order? “It’s not just [specialist] openers, there are middle-order players as well that are putting their hand up to open,” Hayden says. “The batting structure or the selection policy will be to pick the best batsman available.” This could well be a nod at what Ponting hinted at before the ICC World Twenty20, of Australia possibly opening with an allrounder like Shane Watson.

For Hayden it is yet another challenge that he is up for. “It’s important to me that the game stays strong in Australia for many years to come,” he says, “and if I can be a part of that, that’s definitely a role that I see myself playing.”

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