Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2009

New year but same old problems

A new year comes with the same problems despite all the resolutions and promises of change

Matthew Hayden's self-belief is no longer enough when weighed down by slowing reflexes © PA Photos

A new year comes with the same problems despite all the resolutions and promises of change. Like giving up smoking on the first day of the year, the fresh start is often false. Australia's opening hour was full of promise from Simon Katich and Matthew Hayden, but nothing was the same after the first stop for a drink.

On a day when Cricket Australia's chairman Jack Clarke defended his players by saying they "deserve and have earned our respect", the most senior batsmen followed the pattern of the opening defeats to South Africa and left the side in increasingly familiar discomfort. A significant change in direction does not occur from talk, good intentions or a return to familiar patterns. So Matthew Hayden remains a selector's headshake away from having his career ended and the first day of the team's 2009 revival went the same way as the end of 2008, finishing at an insecure 6 for 267.

Hayden has been great as an opener because he has refused to bow to opening bowlers and has stuck to his method when in form or out. At 37 altering the approach is impossible and he is suffering because of it. Old openers don't do new tricks, especially against such a formidable opponent, and his self-belief is no longer enough when weighed down by slowing reflexes.

If Hayden wants to play a shot he will. A couple of close fielders on the off side and a man at mid-off may put him off for a few overs, or a few moments, but he will still try to pierce the defence. It's his will to beat the ball and the tactics. He drove at Makhaya Ntini before lunch and it fell short of mid-off. He was fortunate, as he hadn't been in Perth and Melbourne, and continued attempting to hold on to his innings and his place.

After lunch Hayden and Michael Hussey, another consistent performer suffering from a summer without spark, started more positively. Hayden stuck a firm boundary off the back foot in the first over back before Hussey followed with a sharp cover drive for four in the next. They were the shots of composed batsmen and the hope from the stands was that they had re-discovered their old selves. Then Hayden started attempting to play by leaning back without moving his feet, swinging through the off side without success. He tried it enough times to know he should stop, but didn't.

With Dale Steyn operating from around the wicket, a plan which has worked well against Hayden throughout the series, the batsman had another go at perfecting the shot. This time he hit it, but the inside edge went on to the stumps instead of in front of point. After almost three hours Hayden was gone for 31 and Australia were 3 for 109. Old players who waste their starts quickly become former players.

Hussey, whose spot is not in danger even though the 30 was his highest score of the series, will be relieved that he was able to hit through cover and pull with confidence. However, his push at Paul Harris, leading to a catch at first slip, showed his tentativeness had not departed. It is a shame seeing Hussey in such confusion, but he is in a rut while Hayden is camped in a valley. What the dismissals could not hide was that Australia needed more from their most experienced batsmen after Ricky Ponting's first-ball exit.

Michael Clarke is in the processing of gaining the senior tag and the way he has varied his batting pace over the summer has shown a player who will soon average more than 50. Most of the time he knows when a flourish or a dead bat is needed and while it means the excitement of four years ago is reduced, the effectiveness has increased to the point where he can now save the side or speed it away.

His unbeaten 73 took his summer collection to four fifties and a hundred, making him the side's most consistent batsman. Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson, two other men for the future, lifted Australia from the damage caused by their elders. It is still not a strong position and if something isn't working it is either fixed or a new model is sought. The sooner the selectors realise this with Hayden the quicker they are likely to gain some respect.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Stuart on January 4, 2009, 0:39 GMT

    Well written; I watched yesterday hoping that Hayden could graft out a decent score and prove me, and many over the top print journalists wrong. The shot that he got out to was a shocker. His slow innings didn't give Hussey or McDonald much of a chance of playing well in the middle session.

    Haddin did brilliantly and has surely cemented his place in the side. Clarke has been exceptional; just one silly shot at Perth to cost him a hundred. Australia cannot keep relying on Clarke or Ponting to get Australia to a decent target. Time will tell whether he was very good or great, but I think that it is now crystal clear that Hayden needs to retire.

  • Fitzherbert on January 4, 2009, 0:28 GMT

    Most of the Australian batsmen are at sea against South Africa. Clarke was dropped twice during his innings and the cracks in Australia's armoury are becoming increasingly evident. Hayden because of his age may be made to bite the dust but Hussey has been an abject failure. The real Australian problem is a lack of penetrative bowlers and this will again become evident when South Africa bats. No amount of bravado and wishful thinking can hide the fact that Australian cricket is on a slippery slope to nowhere.

  • mah on January 3, 2009, 22:22 GMT

    why not try hayden at a little lower in the order just as tendulkar is being tried in ODIs

    he is still have great potential. may be the new ball and age are to curse.

    i definitely am sure that he will be more successful in the middle order.

  • Geoff on January 3, 2009, 19:58 GMT

    Although he scored only 15 I thought Andrew McDonald looked good - especially front foot leg side. He plays straight and was a little unfortunate to edge one. A livelier pitch may find him out but that remains to be seen. Looks to have a good temperament for the highest level. I will look forward to seeing him bowl today.

  • babai on January 3, 2009, 17:20 GMT

    Really its sad to see the days of Hayden is almost over.. but lets face the fact ghe is one of all tie greats and a bench mark for modern day cricket.. well Aus 'll come back to their best pretty soon..give them 1 year..plz

  • Sunil on January 3, 2009, 17:10 GMT

    I think 'twas Tennyson that said.."For men may come and men may go, but I go on for ever". The only one that applies to is the timeless, classic SRT. All the Husseys, Pontings, Haydens and Dravids of this or the older world can't match up to his class.

  • Keith on January 3, 2009, 16:15 GMT

    You're article was spot on about Hayden's innings. I can't believe that he persisted with that shot (the attempted back back foot slash through the covers) after being repeatedly beaten. It showed how desperately out of form and low on confidence he is at the moment. Hayden has been a stalwart for years but he's gotta go. The selectors can't leave Phil Hughes out any longer, get him in while he is still fearless and give him an extended run so he can learn from his more experienced team mates. I disagree with your call about Hayden sticking to his method throughout his career. After an extended run of poor form against England in 2005 he reverted back to a gritty, determined style and gradually built his confidence up. He has shown adaptability in the past but his age and quality of competition demand that he is dropped.

    They should install Michael Clarke as captain for the one dayers and South Africa. Now is the time, he deserves a chance, leave Ponting in as a batsman.

  • tony on January 3, 2009, 12:58 GMT

    I saw Nathan Hauritz is playing in this test and I was wondering why? He would have to be the first australian player I have ever seen that doesn't seem to be up to test level. Even the New Zealand batsman were able to score off him at the end of last year.

  • P Subramani on January 3, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    The Australian team was unrecognisable from the team that had been a juggernaut for over a decade. To see a red headed No 6 was as shattering as anything in their performances in recent times. The Australian selectors persisting with Hayden is what surprises me. They have Shaun Marsh and Phil Hughes who they could have tried out at Sydney. That may have made a difference. They did not, giving Hayden another chance to show that he still has something left in the tank. Symonds is another who was in no physical or mental condition to play in Melbourne.If they needed a battering ram like Steyn, they could have tried out Tait who seems alright now.If Symonds could play in the crucial match at Mebourne, I see no reason why Tait should have been left out for Sydney. I believe the Australian selectors have a moral responsibility to step down if South Africa win this Test as well. They need to be replaced by a team which is more in touch with the present than the present lot.

  • Don on January 3, 2009, 11:18 GMT

    Couldn't agree more with the views about Hayden. I have been pushing for him to be 'pensioned off' ever since he returned from injury. It is embarrassing watching an old man desperately trying to recapture his youth. What a shame that he did not heed the warnings he should have seen when Gilchrist and his great mate Langer decided their time was up of their own accord. Anyway if it is going to take a tap on the shoulder to get rid of him I only hope the pathetic selectors find the strength to do it. 2 players should have been dropped after the 2nd test defeat. Hayden and Lee for sure, luckily Lee's injury saved him from the axe and as for Symonds he did nothing to warrant selection in the first place.

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