Committed Hayden remains motivated to succeed
It is hard to think of Matthew Hayden as a slow starter. He has made his name by destroying opening bowlers and quickly turning shiny new balls into lifeless chunks of worn-out leather. But when it took him six years to make his first seven Test appearances, reaching 100 Tests seemed like an unattainable goal.
He will bring up the milestone at the Adelaide Oval on Friday against New Zealand, eight and a half years after regaining his position permanently. At the time he was already 29, had a mountain of state runs and wondered if his big break would ever come, but in the lead-up to the game he said his eventful career-path was not particularly special.
"My story's not any more significant than anyone else's," Hayden said. "Anyone that's got into the Australian cricket team has had to have their personal challenges met, and they've confronted those and conquered them - that's just what it means to play for Australia, that's the fabric of playing for the baggy green."
Hayden will be the 11th Australian to reach a century of Tests, although questions remain over just how many matches he will add to the tally. His form since suffering an achilles tendon injury mid-year has been disappointing but he has not decided on an exit time and he said the constant speculation over his future was not a worry.
"You get used to the melodramatic nature of performances, sometimes you're okay, other times you're not okay, so it's just the way it goes," he said. "And the swings and roundabouts of people's perceptions are something I've taken, never to heart, but more as a motivation as to how I can get better every single game.
"My commitment to the game hasn't changed, and more than anything if I can say what I'm proud of that would be it, Matthew Hayden in 1991 worked as hard as he works in 2008. And that guarantees you at least the best result in terms of how you prepare yourself, but it doesn't guarantee success."
The Adelaide Test presents him with an ideal opportunity to regain his best form. He will be facing an attack devoid of superstars, with the exception of Daniel Vettori, on a pitch expected to offer the seamers little help.
Vettori, the New Zealand captain, recalled once having his first ball of a Gabba Test spanked back over his head by Hayden for six. He said few men had mastered the art of dominating slow bowling like Hayden over the past decade.
"Him and Gilchrist were the two guys I always thought any ball I bowled could disappear out of the park," Vettori said. "Even if I felt like it was a good one and that always makes it tough bowling against guys like that - so destructive. Most of the time they took it to spinners.
"He's the sort of guy that a lot of batsmen grow up wanting to emulate the way he played spin. And it wasn't just an average spinner, it was guys all the way through to Muralitharan. He was aggressive against him, Harbhajan … I think he almost wrote the manual for how to be aggressive against spin bowling."
Hayden, 37, said one of the keys to his longevity in the game was having interests away from cricket. "I've pursued other passions as well, food and life around the sea, so that's who I really am as a person," he said. "I'm a bushy at heart but love the ocean."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo