In the old days, there were stories about buccaneers pillaging through ships and putting everyone they saw out of their miseries. Matthew Hayden as a batsman evoked a similar image of all pervasive strength and a ruthless mind that was typical of the Aussies – he was the one who walked down the pitch and smote any bowler he took a shine to for a six or a four. Just the mere stats – 8625 runs in 103 tests with an average of 50.73 and 30 centuries – would be enough to place him in the pantheon on the all time greatest batsmen to have played the game but as with greats his impact went way beyond the statistics that most will use to judge him.
Hayden started his career as an opening batsman in the early ’90s against tough opponents like West Indies and South Africa and after the baptism by fire his moment of glory came in the 2001 test series against India on Indian soil where he swept and smote his way to 549 runs in 3 tests even though the Aussies lost the series. In that year, he also eclipsed the Australian record of most runs in a calendar year held by Bob Simpson. In 2003, he also scored a massive 380 against Zimbabwe which was then the highest score in tests and eclipsed Brian Lara’s 375 made against England in 1994. It stood for a year before Lara reclaimed his throne with a stupendous 400 against the English team, again, in 2004.
The test series against Sri Lanka was a memorable one for him as well, thanks to the back to back centuries. The 2005 Ashes and the repeat version a year later are also worth mentioning in this regard as the world champions lost and regained the Ashes but Hayden’s form continued to be a good one. He was in belligerent form against India in 2007 as well scoring three centuries in the series.
Hayden’s excellence as a batsman can be gauged from the fact that he played really crucial roles in the two 50-over world cups that Australia won in his time in 2003 and 2007. He was also the person who can be credited for reversing the trend of Aussie batters being outdone by subcontinental spinners – in fact, he was at ease at against both pace and spin. The stories of how he prepared before the 2001 India series are remarkable and show the sheer will power of the sportsman to do well and overcome his limitations. In many ways he can be regarded as a giant among the giants – one who laid the foundation for many Australian successes in every form of the game, a true champion indeed! It is some testament to his caliber that after his retirement the Australians have not had similar quantity at the top and are now no longer the force they used to be.