Hayden’s comeback magic

Has there ever been anyone in cricket to defy expectations and to silence even his harshest critics like Matthew Hayden? Has there ever been anyone that has been written off so many times, only to come back stronger and harder than ever, to the same extent as the Queensland opener?

It has been a superb comeback story from the man whose one-day career was seemingly dead and buried after being dropped from the Australian side after the 2005 NatWest Series in England.

His return to the squad for the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia earlier this year shocked many, as did his selection in the World Cup squad, announced in February. He got off to a shaky start in the CB tri-series series before registering a less than convincing century against New Zealand in Perth.

But confidence is a magical thing in cricket and with that century, Hayden was able to find the form that had been missing in his game for so long. Shortly afterwards, in his side’s short but disastrous tour of New Zealand, a series the Australians would rather forget, Hayden turned up the heat to record a blistering 181 not out in Hamilton.

Carrying his bat through the innings, the 35 year old, scored the 181 off 166 balls to record the highest ever individual Australian ODI score, the previous best being Mark Waugh’s 173 in 2001 at the MCG. What made the feat even more amazing was the fact he continued his innings after breaking his toe mid-way through.

Such scintillating form guaranteed him a place in the 2007 World Cup squad and he has not looked back since.

A good start to the World Cup saw him score a solid 60 against Scotland and a brisk 29 against Holland. His best, however, was saved for the number-one ranked side in the world, South Africa.

The setting needs little introduction. Australia and South Africa. The blockbuster Group A clash everyone had been waiting for. The first time these two sides had met since that famous match at Johannesburg in 2006.

Australia were put in to bat and Matthew Hayden proceeded to score the fastest ever World Cup century as well as the fastest ever Australian ODI century, coming in just 66 deliveries. The man was on fire. He punished the bowling of two of the finest bowlers in the world, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock, sending the duo flying to all parts of the ground and leading his side to a 83 run victory over the Proteas in the process.

If that wasn’t enough, his rich vein of form continued against the West Indies in Australia’s first Super Eight clash in Antigua, where Hayden scored 158, the highest individual score by an Australian in World Cup history. He did it at a rapid pace as well, taking only 143 balls to achieve the feat.

“I said when I got dropped a couple of years ago I was not ready to let the game go,” said Hayden.

“I don’t think world-class players don’t play one form of the game. I had a lot of commitment and passion to get back into the one-day side and it is a tremendous privilege to represent Australia at the World Cup. I needed the support of Ricky Ponting, the coach, the selectors and I am pleased it is paying off for them.”

Former West Indian great, Viv Richards, was all praise for Hayden, saying how impressed he has been with the batsman recently.

“I was in Australia a few weeks ago and everyone was talking about Matthew Hayden’s form and whether he would even come on this tour,” Richards said.

“I think it was touch and go. But I always thought that when you have someone like him who has that experience and the record he has over a decade you don’t just lose it like that. He is a magnificent player.

“He has so many different qualities as a left-hander. With due respect you could say with someone like him that form is temporary and class is so much permanent.”

His captain Ricky Ponting wrote in his latest column for The Australian that Hayden embodied the new team spirit to “be free”.

“Hayden’s great form surge has been the result of letting it flow – but there has been calculation amid the carnage,” Ponting wrote.

“Hayden is a deep thinker and one of cricket’s most astute planners. He prepares himself as well as anyone and has a very clear strategy of how he wants to play.”

There is no denying Matthew Hayden is in the one-day form of his life. Not only is he looking the goods, but he is doing it at a World Cup. It is looking increasingly likely that if Australia manage to create history and win a record third consecutive World Cup, it will be off the back of Matthew Hayden’s sheer brilliance and brutality at the crease. For now though, only time will tell.

Cricket Web Player of the Month:
Matthew Hayden

395 runs at 98.75 from five one-day internationals.

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