Hayden bows out after tough summer
Amid the lack of runs, the calls for his sacking and the support from team-mates, Matthew Hayden knew it was time to go when he was picking tomatoes with his daughter Grace on Saturday. Hayden, Australia's most successful opening batsman, stepped down after a dire home Test campaign to end his chances of bowing out at the Ashes and deny his six-year-old girl's request for "one more Christmas" in Melbourne.
In the Champions Room at the Gabba, a ground as familiar to Hayden as his backyard, he tried not to cry, but stumbled a few times as he read his retirement speech. With Ricky Ponting by his side - he gave encouragement when his friend stalled while talking of his love of playing for his state and country - Hayden spoke for more than half an hour about his past and his future.
He remains determined to contribute more to the game than 103 Tests, 30 hundreds and 8625 runs at 50.73. "Importantly for me today, I'm retiring from cricket, not from life," he said. "I want to explore my other passions of fishing, boating, cooking and outdoors."
At the start of the Australian summer the selectors wanted Hayden to continue to the Ashes, but his Test career was in severe danger when he was dropped from the limited-overs squads last Thursday. He went home to Brisbane after celebrating the victory at the SCG, where he squirmed over 31 and 39, and thought about his future before choosing to exit instead of being pushed out.
"I wanted to step out of the bubble of international cricket," he said. "There were a lot of moments where I was tossing and turning over what I wanted to do. My true intention was to look at the face of adversity again, and discuss with [his wife] Kel what I wanted to do with a new and invigorated game plan. Just giving myself that chance."
As his youngest boy Thomas interrupted to climb on his dad's lap, Hayden, now 37, said the couple of days he spent with his wife and three children convinced him to go. "At one stage on Saturday I was picking a crazy bush of wild tomatoes and talking with Grace, as dad and daughter do," he said. "I said: 'Darling, I think I've had enough, I want to be here. 'Oh, Daddy, one more Christmas.' She loved the Boxing Day Test. I said: 'No, darling, this is time.'"
He was given a public farewell at Tuesday's Twenty20 international at the Gabba, where he was driven around the ground on the back of a car during the innings break. The scoreboard said "Thanks Matt", the crowd roared throughout the slow lap and Mark Boucher and Neil McKenzie joined in the waving goodbye.
Hayden said his retirement was from all representative teams, but he will honour his Indian Premier League commitment with the Chennai Super Kings. "There's absolutely zero fear," Hayden said when asked about the rest of his life. "I've got zero regrets. I've tried to, rightly or wrongly, extract every ounce of whatever ability that I've been given and turn it into performance."
Asked if his original plan was to go on until after the Ashes he said: "If it was, I believe I would be going on that tour. This is the point where I want to step off."
Hayden had a difficult summer and managed only 149 runs at 16.55 from five Tests while hearing pleas for a significantly younger player to replace him. He was hindered by a heel injury in the off-season and never regained his spark, which was a shame considering his major contribution to the game in Australia over the past decade.
The first of Hayden's Tests came in South Africa in 1993-94, when he replaced the injured Mark Taylor, but it was not until 2000 that he was finally able to secure a regular spot in the national side. He went to India in 2001 and scored an Australian-record 549 runs in three matches and his place was not in danger until the 2005 Ashes tour. Ending that series with a century at The Oval, he produced four hundreds in consecutive games for the second occasion.
"Maybe this is the seventh or eighth time I've been at the crossroads in my career, whether that be in one-day international or Test match cricket," he said. "On reflection, I've made the correct decision for the boys moving forward."
He said the highlights were "the absolute highs of winning series" with Australia and combining with Ponting and Adam Gilchrist in the one-day team and Justin Langer in Tests. "They have been significant partnerships of life," he said. "They've taught me the value of great character of strength and companionship."
No Australian opener has scored more Test runs than Hayden and he is behind only Ponting and Steve Waugh on the local hundreds' list. The final time he reached three figures was against India in Adelaide 12 months ago. In the one-day arena there were 161 matches, 6133 runs, 10 hundreds and two World Cups.
As Hayden made his announcement he was watched by the Australian Twenty20 squad, which lost him from its ranks last week, and at the end he shook their hands and hugged them. The former Queensland captain Jimmy Maher, Cricket Australia's general manager of cricket Michael Brown and the rugby union international David Croft were also there along with Hayden's parents, Laurie and Moya.
"I've loved so much playing cricket," he said. "I will never forget the experiences of 20 years as a professional cricketer. I'm looking forward to the next stage of my life."
He plans to work on finding indigenous cricketers for the national team - his former team-mate Jason Gillespie is the only recognised Test player with Aboriginal origins - and "wants to help Australian families reconnect with our great country by taking the time to get outside". There will also be time spent with the McGrath Foundation and the Australian Cricketers' Association, which is negotiating its next agreement with Cricket Australia.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo