January 26, 2008.
Matthew Hayden’s hundred at the Adelaide Oval was an act of will. From the moment he walked to the crease he steeled himself to construct a massive score.
Forced to watch the Perth Test from the sidelines, he suffered as his team slipped to defeat. He spent the first two days of this Test standing in the slips as the Indian score mounted. To his chagrin he dropped a sitter. Accordingly he walked to the crease with debts to settle and runs to score.
Surviving the last hour on the second evening was itself an achievement. It is no small thing to walk to the crease after chasing leather for 11 hours. But opening batsmen are a hard-bitten lot. Although it is tolerable for a member of the fraternity to duck a bumper, they are not allowed to shy away from their duties. Their only weakness is a tendency to regard middle-order men as a bunch of wusses.
Nor did Hayden concentrate only on defence as the Australian innings began. He likes to impose himself and to that end eliminates negative thoughts. As far as opponents are concerned he shows little sign of the nervous nellie. Just the sight of him striding to the crease has a powerful effect on those waiting their turn and bowlers marking out their runs. It is an intentionally intimidating effect, not unlike the banging of drums favoured by Roman legions as they marched into battle.
MS Dhoni appeals for a stumping against Matthew Hayden
Photo: Matt Dawson [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Determined to show that he was not worried about anything, Hayden was soon playing the booming straight drives that define him. It is not so much a shot as an announcement. Standing in front of the popping crease, which makes him seem even more massive while also bringing more deliveries into driving range, the Queenslander began belting the ball back down the pitch. Unable to find any swing, a fate that also befell the hosts, the Indian seamers retained a full length supported by a well-placed field. Hayden’s only mistakes came as vivid sweeps were essayed off unsuitable deliveries. Premeditation is a risky business.
Resuming on a blistering third day, Hayden was quickly back to work. India had decided to deny him anything to clout to leg, a tactic calculated to test his patience and ability to score runs elsewhere. Harbhajan Singh aimed a foot outside the off stick and placed a man at second slip. Ishant Sharma sent a man to patrol the boundary at backward point. It was good thinking from the visitors. A wise captain tries to play the game on his own terms.
Hayden has been around for a long time and did not take long to grasp the strategy or to construct a response. Finding Harbhajan’s spinners landing wide of his stumps, he let them pass till one landed a fraction short whereupon he pounced, producing a cut delayed till the last instant and sent speeding away behind point. He intended to prove that he could score runs all around the wicket. Soon afterwards he repeated the stroke, forcing Kumble to withdraw a slip to stem the flow of runs. It was a victory for the left-hander.
Although his comrades were respectable, Irfan Pathan was the most dangerous bowler hereabouts. Denied his stock delivery, he cut his fingers across the ball and bent it back into the southpaw. Once Hayden was caught out of position by an inswinger and trapped plumb in front. Fortunately for the batsmen the umpires have forgotten about this means of dismissal in Adelaide and rather than considering the appeal, Billy Bowden went on his customary walk. Fewer lbws are given on placid pitches. It is high time the three challenge rule was introduced.
Hayden continued to bat in his commanding way. Twice he stepped down the pitch with misguided intent but otherwise his bat appeared broad and belligerent. He passed 50 with the ease of a sports car and motored on towards three figures. Anil Kumble was greeted with a straight six that landed a yard short of the sightscreen. When the India captain left a tempting gap at extra cover the batsman accepted the invitation, leaning back to strike a boundary and then stroking the next ball for further notches. He was in control.
Eventually Hayden reached his hundred, the 30th of a distinguished and slow-starting career. He celebrated with raised arms that spoke of satisfaction and exhaustion. In the end tiredness undid him as Ishant found a way through his defences. But Hayden had served with distinction. He remains a formidable batsmen and a daunting opponent. Not for the first time his successors were in his debt. Nor for the first time the Indians had reason to rue his revival.