It was in the middle of the night, while in the kitchen making a cup of tea during the break between innings of the New Zealand one-dayer against the West Indies, that I caught a mention of the name Hayden coming from the living room.
Leaving the kettle to whistle furiously – well it’s a nice image, in reality it just boiled furiously and clicked softly – I ran in to find Marcus Buckland and Colin Croft had moved onto another subject. But, surely, there could only be one reason that they had been mentioning Matthew Hayden.
I grabbed the remote, switched to Ceefax and there it was, in bold blue and black. It was true. Matty Hayden had called it a day.
Now, I have no great affection for Matty: he was a bully, arguably a flat-track one at times, and it would have been an insult to batsmen down the ages should his 380 against Zimbabwe have stood as the greatest Test innings of all time (in size, that is, and cricket does like to measure things in sizes,) but I couldn’t help feel a sense of sadness in the pit of my stomach.
For he was the pantomime villain – all pride, bombast and arrogance dressed up in an extraodinary frame. I don’t know whether he started out with a huge upper body, one totally out of proportion with the rest of it, or whether his chest expanded with each more dominant innings and Ashes victory, leaving his legs trailing in its wake. But he was a character it was easy to love to hate because his brash personality came bursting forth in his batting style.
And it was in some ways embarrassing to witness his struggles in the series against South Africa; the aggressive march down the wicket was no longer intimidating his opponents and when he tried to retreat and show more respect, it really wasn’t him. Best probably, that he should exit stage left, cheers and boos ringing in his ears probably in equal measure, although I wouldn’t have put it past him to come good again in the Ashes. But that would have entailed further examination in South Africa, and he couldn’t be sure of coming through that test.
He leaves with a Test aveage of 50 intact. But was he really, as Ricky Ponting claimed, without doubt Australia’s greatest opener. “You can even look back through the history books of the game,” said the Australia captain “and try and see if there’s ever been a better opening batsman in the game, let alone Australia.”
I await the stampede of statisticians to disprove that theory; but in the meantime, let’s hope Matty gets a winter season at the end of Blackpool pier.