It has been interesting reading and hearing the reaction to the announcement of Matthew Hayden’s retirement this week. Plenty of Australian journalists and ex-teammates have praised him to the rooftops, talked of what a rounded, balanced bloke he is and what a contribution he has made to Australian cricket. Notably, and in stark contrast to the retirements of Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist, the silence from his erstwhile opponents has been deafening.
Why the ambivalence? I must admit to being from the school of thought who found Hayden a pretty objectionable individual on the cricket field. My view of him was not helped by the fact that he is very big mates with Andrew Symonds who is arguably even more obnoxious. But Herschelle Gibbs, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara all have their moments and I would pay a lot of money to watch them bat. In fact I would happily watch them score a hundred against England, as long as we skittled the rest for not a lot.
Not so Hayden. His was not a graceful style but there was more to it than that. In the field he was never short of a word or two, often accompanied by a rather ugly sneer and he appeared pretty disdainful while batting as well. He generally received only begrudging praise outside Australia, if that.
Perhaps this is all a complement to him. Being disliked by the opposition is often a badge of honour as it shows fear. But with Hayden, unlike with so many of his outstanding peers in the Australia side, this never translated into admiration. Making comments such as describing opponents as ‘an obnoxious little weed’ don’t help. Whatever you may think of Harbajan Singh, such ungracious comments have no place in the game unless they can be passed off as banter which this clearly can’t.
There was also the sense that, as with many bullies, Hayden could dish it out but he could not take it. This is quite true of a lot of the Australian team, notably Ponting, McGrath and Symonds all of whom enjoy a bit of a self-righteous whinge when someone gives back as good as they get. But Hayden was generally perceived as the worst culprit.
England recognised this in 2005, as shown by the famous incident when Hayden was hit by a wild throw from Simon Jones. Hayden advanced, posturing like an alpha male jungle gorilla, only to find himself surrounded by such intimidating figures as Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood. It set a trend that England were not prepared to be bullied and, robbed of his trump card, Hayden was half the player for the rest of the summer.
All this is a bit of a shame because his record is fantastic. Whether he is Australia’s greatest ever opener as bare figures suggest is a moot point given that 50 is the new 40 in terms of averages. But he has been a formidable figure in world cricket for the best part of a decade and has been as important as anyone in raising the tempo of the game. It is strange that we watch perceived bludgeoners like Chris Gayle, Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya with great admiration and recall with amazement and wistfulness the pomp of Adam Gilchrist (awesome player, great bloke) but we do not extend the same feelings to Hayden. The only explanation is that the way he conducted himself grated.
Perhaps we should listen to those who played alongside him. They are unanimous on what a great bloke he is, how valuable he is to the team and what an excellent family man he is. Justin Langer was unequivocal in his praise, however strange it was to hear a 40 year old man describe someone as their ‘best buddy’, something which I though was usually the preserve of children under the age of 10.
Either way, a great player has gone and we should salute his achievements, even if we cannot bring ourselves to mourn his passing. However given some of the nonsense he has spouted over the years I hope he doesn’t follow the path of almost every other Australian to have retired in recent memory into the Channel 9 commentary box. Not sure I could handle a jingoism-off between him, Shane Warne, Ian Healy and Bill Lawry. That would be too much.
by Stuart Peel