Matthew Hayden: Man of contradictions

Standing my ground
Matthew Hayden
Harper Collins
2011,  pp 402
599

It might not have been so much to his critics and his opposition as much as to himself, his team-mates and the selectors, but at no stage in his long, largely distinguished career did the left-hander take himself, or his success, for granted.



That he has opted to name his autobiography Standing My Ground in itself offers a deep insight into the psyche, and the life and times of a wonderfully attacking batsman who reinvented himself after a modest start to his international career, and who was one of the chief architects of Australia’s commanding rule over world cricket for more than a decade.

‘Haydos’ has been seen by many as a massive contradiction — a self-confessed devout Catholic to whom ‘publicly acknowledging my faith was a personal affirmation for me’ and a bully, a compulsive sledger who didn’t think twice about having a go at the opposition.

Hayden’s explanation that his faith was what it seemed to be and that his man-baiting persona was a role he embraced to deliberately get under the skin of the opposition might not find too many takers, but typically, the big fella might just shrug his shoulders as if to say, “You really think I care?”

Hayden’s tale has been remarkably well chronicled, as one would expect of a cricketer who went from being written off to becoming one of the greatest of all time, but to hear it from the horse’s mouth is truly fascinating. His dissection of intimate relationships, with team-mates and opponents alike, is typically Hayden — brutally honest, forthright and with no punches pulled.

His respect and admiration for Justin Langer and Steve Waugh, for instance, is as obvious as his lack of those emotions for guys like former Australian captain Mark Taylor, with whom he had a rocky, tempestuous relationship but alongside whom he is now one of the directors of Cricket Australia.

This is a compelling narrative of the trials and tribulations of a promising young cricketer trying to break through into the national team. He talks about the pressures of trying to establish oneself, of the competitiveness and regional slant that exists in Australian cricket too. This is a startling revelation for all those who thought only the sub-continent encouraged such bias. It also covers hitherto uncharted journeys into the minds, preparations and attitudes of some of the biggest names in Australian cricket.

Hayden has dwelt on his relationship with Indian players, not so much at length as in passing, though one might have expected more on Monkeygate, given not only his proximity to Andrew Symonds but also how close he was to the action on the field on that fateful January afternoon in Sydney in 2008.

The passage of time has tempered his combative instincts somewhat, even if neither Harbhajan Singh nor Sourav Ganguly has taken kindly to his comments on ‘greenwicketitis’ during the Nagpur Test in 2004, even if there might have been some merit in Hayden’s observations.

Standing My Ground is typically Hayden, robust and unapologetic. The copious references to the Indian Premier League make it all too obvious that he is looking beyond merely an Australian audience; whistle-stop tours across India promoting the book lend further meat to that theory.

Hayden, the man, is so dramatically different from Hayden, the in-your-face cricketer; this book will go a long way towards making one understand how those two vastly differing personas co-existed harmoniously within that one giant frame.

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