Australia v South Africa 2008-09 / Features

Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 3rd day

Ridden by doubt, Hayden's time is running out

On a day when Rahul Dravid at least delayed further queries about his retirement plans, Matthew Hayden's second failure of the match against South Africa has only intensified speculation over his future

Brydon Coverdale at the WACA

December 19, 2008

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

A man who made his name by intimidating new-ball bowlers around the world is himself beginning to look daunted © Getty Images

There are few more disheartening sights in sport than watching a great career sputter towards an unbefitting end. It's a feeling that has gripped cricket fans in Australia and India in recent months and on a day when Rahul Dravid's half-century against England at least delayed further queries about his retirement plans, Matthew Hayden's second failure of the match against South Africa has only intensified speculation over his future.

Hayden has hit a wall that is starting to look as impenetrable as Dravid's defence at its peak. He took so long to get off the mark in the second innings at the WACA that when he finally struck his first runs in his 37th minute, he raised his bat to the crowd in a mock celebration. The fans cheered but must have been wondering if they will ever see him enjoy another genuine milestone.

If he remains keen to go on next year's Ashes tour, he needs to make a big score quickly. Hayden loves the MCG, where he has made centuries in six out of the past seven Boxing Day Tests, and he will be desperate to harness that positive vibe next week. The way he played in Perth it will take quite a turnaround. A horrible umpiring call contributed to his disappointment when he was given out caught off his pad, but he had been so scratchy that it was hard to imagine him lasting much longer anyway.

In his early days Hayden had an unfortunate habit of occasionally getting bowled misjudging the length and shouldering arms. It's such an ugly mode of dismissal that it magnifies a batsman's flaws. The uncertainty returned in this innings when he was lucky not to be given lbw when he left a Dale Steyn ball that swung in and would probably have clipped the stumps.

His hesitance was understandable. It was only by stripping away much of his aggression and returning to a cautious approach that he returned to form after a miserable Ashes tour in 2005. His first-innings dismissal must have been weighing on his mind as well. On the opening day, Hayden was buoyed by three confident fours when he flashed at a short, wide ball that he could easily have left and edged to slip. A man who made his name by intimidating new-ball bowlers around the world is himself beginning to look daunted.

There have been glimmers of hope in recent months - he made two half-centuries on the tour of India - but he hasn't looked right since missing the trip to the Caribbean due to an ongoing Achilles tendon injury. The heel was the fatal weakness of the mythological Greek soldier for which it was named and it could yet contribute to the undoing of a modern Australian warrior.

There is doubt created by the fact he's not having the success he'd like, there is doubt created by he hasn't got a hundred for a few Tests, there is doubt created by the fact that people are speculating about his future, all those things go into making this a tough gameCoach Tim Nielsen on Hayden's poor run

Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, would like him to be sticking around longer and not exposing Ricky Ponting to the new-ball as early, although he said all the signs from Hayden off the field remained positive. But the pressure builds after every missed opportunity and Nielsen said it was to be expected that it might make things harder for Hayden each time he went to the crease.

"There is doubt created by the fact he's not having the success he'd like, there is doubt created by he hasn't got a hundred for a few Tests, there is doubt created by the fact that people are speculating about his future, all those things go into making this a tough game," Nielsen said. "There is speculation about you every day and at the moment he's the one who's under the gun."

But he insisted Hayden was not facing pressure from the Australian camp or the selectors and he did not believe the batsman had made a decision on his future. A chat with the team management is likely at the end of the South Africa series and Hayden's future should become clearer.

"At the end of this series we'll sit down and see where he's at," Nielsen said. "It'll make it more difficult if his scores aren't as consistent as he'd like them to be but at the moment I think we've got to be patient. I'm sure over the next six months we'll all know exactly where he stands."

If he gets a tap on the shoulder from the chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch, it would be a disappointing way to go. Hayden deserves to exit the game on his own terms, like so many of the men who with him were key parts of Australia's most dominant period.

Glenn McGrath departed after taking a record number of wickets at the 2007 World Cup. Shane Warne quit the game after helping Australia to a 5-0 Ashes triumph and has wisely resisted calls for his return, preferring the positive memories of his international swansong. Justin Langer went following the same Ashes victory. Hayden has missed Langer since their long-standing opening partnership was severed for good and Langer said this week that he felt Hayden was not sure about whether to try and push on to England in 2009.

If he does not make the trip to England, Australia have plenty of opening options. Simon Katich and Phil Jaques would be the likely first-choice pair but there are others pressing their claims at first-class level. Two of the three leading run-scorers in the Sheffield Shield this season are opening batsmen: Chris Rogers, who has played a Test, and Phillip Hughes, who is only 20 but is in superb form for New South Wales.

Hughes' timing is impeccable. In the current match against South Australia at the SCG, he made 114 to add to the 93 and 108 he compiled in the previous game against Tasmania. Hayden, who is 17 years his senior, needs to rapidly rediscover his own sense of occasion to avoid a forgettable farewell.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Posted by rkvdoc on (December 20, 2008, 2:39 GMT)

What about Shaun Marsh?Is he not in the frame?

Posted by has9 on (December 20, 2008, 1:59 GMT)

To be very honest I find all these speculation about all these great players really insulting. I could only expect such impatience from supporters from subcontinent where any poor performance would be held under the microscope and then dissected to the point of "give me a break"! Common he merely had a below average series in India when I was actually amazed by the rumors about his retirement right before the New Zealand series, obviously that didn't help as his performance was only backed by another moderate series against them.

I could only blame the very short attention span of people these days who forgot that he just made 3 consecutive centuries against India last season. Much of these are so blown out of proportion that its just sad. Just remember how Sachin's performance was seen at 2007 WC, at that point the media literally enjoyed every moment of his failure and made headlines about his fall, most of the people probably even forgot about those days....yeh i thought so!

Posted by snarge on (December 20, 2008, 0:02 GMT)

Hayden was out ONCE bowled not playing a shot-Melbourne 1996. That is hardly a habit. He was harshly treated by selectors at the start of his career, ridiculously left out of the one-day side recently for 18 months, and must now keep his place. One of the problems in the recent india tour was a lack of experience of local conditions in the team. Hayden must go to South Africa and England, and will make enough runs in the final two Tests to make it a no-brainer.

Two points on other stuff you've written about this days play, Brydon: One, don't compare Bowden's decision with Dar's. Dar's was by far the worse-a complete howler, as were Rauf's 2 against Hayden at Bangalore. Two, your reading of the pitch is ridiculous. The ball you referred to bounced where the bowler lands his back foot prior to delivering the ball (level with the stumps), and is totally irrelevant in assessing the pitch unless the batsman is standing behind the stumps.

Posted by Benster2 on (December 19, 2008, 23:18 GMT)

Believe me - no one loves Hayden more than me. The sight of the giant Ox thrashing bowlers around, charging down the pitch, is really something. But the selectors must realise that timing is everything. At best, Hayden will last til the end of the Ashes - and will probably not regain his world beating form. They need to groove the future opening batsman right now. There is no better time to put a batsman into the test side than when he is at the peak of his form - as there is more chance of him succeeding and gaining confidence that he has the ability to be a test match player. Take, for example, Haddin - he was not in the best form when he starting tests (although he had good career stats) and it has taken him quite few tests to find himself. Phil Hughes or Chris Rogers must be rushed in - though i must say my preference is for Phil Hughes.

That said, we love you Haydos and all you have done. But the time has come for the next generation of test openers.

Posted by Rusty_1 on (December 19, 2008, 21:32 GMT)

The selectors will give Haydos till the end of the series here in Australia to prove himself. He has been to victim of some woeful umpiring decisions, but those things seem to happen to you when your not in form. If he does not get any runs in the next two tests, I think he will be tapped on the sholder. Jacques is the man to replace him. He & Kato would make a fearsome opening combo - both are hungry for runs & to prove themselves. Rogers & Hughes need to wait in my opinion.

Posted by TheDoctor394 on (December 19, 2008, 21:24 GMT)

According to The Courier Mail here in Brisbane this morning, "world cricket was in shock" due to the bad decision Hayden got yesterday. I'm curious... is this true?

Posted by SRT_Jammy_Dada_VVS_and_Anil_legends on (December 19, 2008, 21:15 GMT)

I am certainly no fan of the Aussie cricket team, but I feel that players with the records and services rendered of Matthew Hayden and Rahul Dravid should not be doubted as to their ability and should be allowed to get back to form without this unnecessary media pressure about retirement, particularly when both players have received public backing from captain, coach and selectors. Hayden has often been too arrogant for my liking as a person, but as an opening batsman he must surely rank among the top 10 and should be given the space he needs. Not too long ago he scored a fighting 77 against a decent Indian bowling attack. Matthew Hayden and Rahul Dravid are two of the greatest players of the last decade and must be given a chance to get back into form, which Dravid appears to have done with a typically solid 50 in Mohali. Haydos and Jammy deserve at least that much. Jammy to push on and get a hundred!

Posted by shrimati_bradman on (December 19, 2008, 20:24 GMT)

I am not sure why Hayden is lionised by the Australian media, this article being a great example - "modern Australian warrior", "intimidating new-ball bowlers". His behavior is not that of a warrior, but a belligerent sourpuss: angry glares on the field and calling people obnoxious weeds off it.

I am not saying Harbhajan and Sreesanth are saints, they fall in the same league as Hayden Katich and Ponting. Hayden may be a heroic batsman, but a hero he is not. We should look to the Tendulkars, Lees and Dravids for that.

Posted by Rajesh. on (December 19, 2008, 20:22 GMT)

The Australians have this habit of always trying what Steve waugh used to call "Mental Disintegration". They always look for ways to disrupt their opponent's foucs ahead of a series or a match. As recently as in India they were trying to do the same to Anil Kumble & Rahul Dravid, just to name a couple of them... Taking the cue from them , the media, as is their wont started putting pressure on the Indian players past 30...

But what the Aussies forgot was that some of their own players are not very young (and that includes captain Ponting who is 34). They either forgot or were smartly trying to divert the attention..... Now it's perhpas coming back to haunt them. Mathew Hayden had many times spent a lot of energy and time trying to 'mentally disintegrate' opponents but in the process perhaps not paying enough attention to himself. May be now it's time for Hayden to do some self analysis because he is the one who is under the scanner. Mate, WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND !!

Posted by HE_Pennypacker on (December 19, 2008, 19:46 GMT)

<i>"A horrible umpiring call contributed to his disappointment when he was given out caught off his pad, but he had been so scratchy that it was hard to imagine him lasting much longer anyway."</i> So, we'll just call it another failure then, despite the horrible umpiring call? He's had horrible umpiring calls in about 4 of his last 6 or 7 innings, but let's just say that he would have got out soon enough anyway, hey? That way his form looks worse than what it is, and your article looks more valid...

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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