Attack is his credo

Attack is his credo

Attack is his credo

front-footer: Hayden says he challenged the way the game was played when he came on the scene. PTI

With 30 Test centuries and an average in excess of 50, Matthew Hayden’s place in the cricketing pantheon is secure. The towering left-hander was a key component of an Australian team that dominated international cricket for over a decade, setting the tone with his brazen aggression at the top of the innings right until his retirement last year.

In this free-wheeling interaction with Deccan Herald, the 38-year-old reflects on life at the top, on how it is unrealistic to have no international cricket over the duration of the Indian Premier League, and on how the IPL has helped bring peoples and players closer.


There’s been a clamour for a clear window for the IPL. With ten teams from next year and the competition expected to last two months, how realistic is that window?

There would be the argument that if you take out all international cricket during the IPL, if you are creating a window of space for the IPL, then every country could say we also want a window. Other countries have to make money as well on the back of their national sporting identities and they have all got plans, I am sure, for carving out their own windows within the Future Tours Programme. It puts in jeopardy what has been traditionally the number one objective, and that is to follow the FTP.

Would you agree that the IPL has helped dissipate a lot of tension and helped players understand each other better?

There is a great harmony that exists among the playing group on the back of having an internationally-flavoured tournament. I see guys like Suresh (Raina) and Parthiv Patel who we have gone to war with as senior players against youngsters in days gone by. To know that we can equally sit down, talk about our families and the differences in our culture, it has been an inspirational tournament. It has been a life-changing tournament to have the opportunity to play alongside guys that you would never know otherwise.

As a batsman, is there any one way of approaching a Twenty20 innings?

It’s a real gamble, is this T20 game. Quite frankly, if you are not into taking risks, it’s not a game for you. If you don’t have a personality that says I took a risk and I made a mistake, now I got to get back and take another risk, then you are just lost in a sea of it. That’s part of the excitement and the challenge of balancing risks versus reward. It’s a very fine line.

Can you then coach a conservative batsman into becoming a risk-taker?

All the great finishers of the game had a really good approach to risk-taking. They took the risk and then backed off, they had a really nice balance. If you are all about risk, then eventually it is not going to work. As Australia, we would always take the risk in the first few balls of the over and then back off. That’s something Robin Uthappa does very well — he takes risks at the start of the over very well, which means that at the back end of the over, he is not under pressure. That is a good strategy in T20 cricket.

As an opener even in Test cricket, I have walked down to guys in the first over of the first Test of the series. I could and did get out. But in a lot of ways, I got broader shoulders with that because the benefit is that you arrive at Test match cricket and stamp the game from that point on. Opposition sides are not on the front of their feet, they are on the back of their heels. That’s just the way I played the game. But you can’t have everyone playing the same way. You got to have a blend of power and finesse.

What kind of legacy do you think you have left behind?

I was part of an unbelievable group of not only talented cricketers but also very, very strong characters which just wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was about providing new challenges for itself, innovating ways of playing the game and delivering results which were second to no other era outside of the West Indies in the 80s. That’s not my legacy, that’s just my contribution to the legacy of the era. I consider myself very lucky to have contributed to that era.

From an individual point of view, I challenged the way the game had been played and was to be played in every sense. When I first started playing, if I was to read the press, I was too big, I didn’t have the agility needed, I was a front-dogger. But the reality was I wasn’t typical, I challenged the way the game was played. I was an opener, I was a front-footer in every sense. I wanted to take ascendancy of the game and I wanted to hold that to take the side into a position where the opposition was just sitting on their heels. I took it to spin bowling and created a drama and tension around competitions like Harbhajan vs Hayden, Murali vs Hayden. It was a great part of the entertainment that I actually stimulated myself to keep playing good cricket. In one-day cricket, I was in an era of power. As a player, I trained to be powerful. I trained to be fast, I trained to have good arm strength so I could deliver balls and run out people from the outfield. From a hitting point of view, I trained to hit the ball out of the ground.

You had some fascinating showdowns with the Indians…

They were good battles. From an individual point of view, the 2001 series was my favourite performance for a lot of reasons. I was barely in the side, and I came out and dominated that series. Then my role within the side changed a lot in 2004. I was like the coach almost in a lot of ways. That took a lot of energy and definitely cost me individually, but we delivered a team result which was to win that series in India. That’s certainly in the top five highlights of my career. To adapt and improvise and overcome conditions diametrically opposite to those at home was a great tick in the Australian box. But they also set up wonderful battles, like the Dravid-Laxman partnership in Kolkata (2001). That was a phenomenal Test match, there was a real showcase of Test match cricket.

But there was a fair amount of needle too, wasn’t there?

Overall, the contests were super competitive, no question about it. Neither side was willing to give up. Without reflecting negatively on any particular game, there were times when maybe they (players from both teams) went over the top. But from a playing sense, a lot of that was left on-field and it was construed the wrong way off the field.
The other night, I sat around with MS (Dhoni) and Harbhajan and we spoke for hours.
That’s the beauty of the IPL -- you never ever get to know someone until you actually play with them. International programmes separate sides because you are a moving feast the whole time. Here, you get a chance to stop and reflect. There’s a great unity that comes with the IPL because it is an international-flavoured competition.