Hayden seeks a new bond
After six years as Justin Langer's full-time partner, Matthew Hayden is about to parade his new public relationship when he walks out at the Gabba with Phil Jaques. The pair flirted as batting mates a couple of times over the past two years when Langer was injured, but now the men have the chance to develop something special of their own as they attempt to maintain the imposing collections of the previous combination.
At times Jaques must have felt like he was the third wheel in a love affair. Since January, when Langer announced his split with Hayden and the Test team, Jaques has been linked to the post and he will begin life as a first-choice partner against Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Hayden first seriously bonded with Jaques over a can of tinned stew during last year's boot camp and he wants to develop the relationship, but he realises the feelings of batting with Langer will never be recaptured. "We'd played since 1990 together, that's 17 years of knowing each other very intimately," he said as the Australia squad completed its first training session. "Day in day out, playing against each other or with each other, you just can't replace that."
John Buchanan's boot camp gave Hayden and Jaques an idea of what to expect when the other was under extreme pressure. As members of Team Alpha they completed strenuous hikes, coped with sleep deprivation and shared cold stew and bread for dinner. "It tasted dreadful but we got through it," Hayden said. "It was a lot of fun and a good start. It's something I believe we can draw from."
Hayden calls Jaques a "very steady character" and believes he will settle comfortably and quickly into the Test set-up. "I'm not worried about Phil's game at all," he said, "I have zero concerns about that."
Jaques opened with 2 and 28 in his first Test against South Africa when Langer had a rib injury and he scored 66 after coming in when Langer missed the 2006 Bangladesh tour to recover from concussion. "It's not like Phil's played three games for New South Wales," Hayden said. "He's no rookie and that's a great thing for this side. You come to this level knowing your game really well so there's less to expose."
One thing that Hayden is slightly worried about is that Australia will enter the match a little rusty. The team has not played a Test since the Ashes series ended in January and has prepared for Sri Lanka by contesting two series of limited-overs matches. "There could be rust," he said. "We've played a lot of one-day cricket. While we've played a few first-class games, Test cricket is still a different game. We've worked hard in the short time we've been home."
Hayden respects Sri Lanka's pace attack but is in no doubt as to what he wants to do on Thursday. "Bat," he said firmly. His new partner is probably feeling the same way.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo