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`Mighty Matt': 100th test - Partab Ramchand Column
by Partab Ramchand
Nov 27, 2008
It is easy to shrug off Matthew Hayden's latest achievement on playing his 100th Test. After all wasn't a cricketer of his exalted status bound to reach the prestigious landmark? However during the initial stages of his career it did not look like the strongly-built left-handed Australian opening batsman would last so long.

He had a harsh baptism playing his early matches against South Africa and West Indies and after playing 13 Tests he had scored but one hundred. He was in and out of the squad and from 1997 to 2000 was out of it.

In the new millennium however it was a different Hayden that cricket fans saw and frightened bowlers encountered. Gone was the diffidence, the hesitancy in his strokeplay. He played them with the full flow of the bat frequently darting yards out to club even quick bowlers to the straight field and other parts of the ground. Before this merciless onslaught the best of bowlers quailed.

From 2001 to 2005 he passed 1000 runs every year. He scored a hundred in each innings twice. He hit the Test record score of 380 fulfilling Steve Waugh's prescient remark a year earlier that Hayden would one day pass Brian Lara's 375. His average soared to 58. After only 55 Tests he had notched up 20 three-figure knocks a proportion that put him right behind Don Bradman. And like the great man he had more centuries than fifties thanks to an unbelievable conversion rate. He became only the third player after Bradman and Ken Barrington to score four hundreds in successive Tests twice.

It would not be wrong to say that for a few years Hayden was the most intimidating sight for bowlers the world over. He certainly was the biggest bully with a ruthless streak, the opening batsman bowlers feared the most. And when he was brought down to mortal levels during the 2005 Ashes series his batting took on a more resolute touch.

In place of the intimidating Hayden was seen the fastidious Hayden. By now he was in his mid thirties and he grinded the bowlers down, taking longer over his runs though the hunger for success was still very much prevalent.

His natural aggression was now tempered with steadfast defence making him that much harder to dismiss. Certainly the competitive fires still burnt bright for even as it looked like he would lose his place in the limited overs squad Hayden bounced back like a man possessed. In 2007 he scored more runs than anyone in both 50 over and 20 over internationals, was leading run scorer at the World Cup and the World Twenty20, hit the most sixes in ODIs and went 20 one day innings without a single-figure score.

In the final match of the Chappell – Hadlee series he thumped an Australian record 181 off 166 balls which included ten sixes underlining that age had not in any way diminished his awesome power. Neither had age diminished his ability at the Test level for in the 2007-08 series against India he notched up three hundreds in three matches to leapfrog Bradman's tally of 29 hundreds and stand next to Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh.

That's the great thing about 'Mighty Matt'. You can never write him off. Throw him a challenge and he rises to the occasion. He displays the concentration and temperament required for the best opening batsman and as Simon Katich said the other Hayden is the greatest-ever Australian at the top of the order. Few would be able to argue successfully against this assertion.

The honours sit lightly on Hayden's burly frame. The winner of the Allan Border Medal in 2002. Test Player of the Year the same year. Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2003. ICC One-Day Player of the Year 2007. ODI player of the year 2008. And by the time he quits one can be sure that more such honours will come his way for even at 37 Hayden has lost none of his motivation to succeed.

 
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