Michael Jeh July 25, 2011

The Hayden way

Matthew Hayden has come out of retirement to sign up with Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League

Matthew Hayden has come out of retirement to sign up with Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League. My first reaction was ...’gosh, not sure how to react!’ The Hayden Way (as his company is called) is a brand that clearly trades on his reputation for being tough and uncompromising, winning at all costs. Wonder how history and hindsight will judge this reincarnation?

I've known Matt since we were both young men, both of us trying to break into First Grade cricket in Brisbane. I was a couple of years senior to him and had already played for the first team when he burst on to the scene and "announced himself". And I mean, announced himself. Whereas my goals, in keeping with my talent, were fairly modest, Matt suffered from no such inferiority complex. Blessed with enormous self-confidence, a powerful physique and a work ethic to match, I watched this young pup write his own autobiography in his mind and then fulfill it. It was quite a bizarre way to live the dream - he wrote the script, convinced himself that it was his destiny and, despite many who doubted him, went on to live the dream.

Early doors, I must confess that I feared for this perceived arrogance. As the runs piled up, after he predicted they would, that fear grew into a kind of morbid admiration. I realised soon enough that his self-belief wasn't so much arrogance as utter confidence in himself. I shared too many dressing rooms with him early in his career to put it down to a fluke. The guy was just on a different planet when it came to making bold statements about scoring big runs and then backing it up in totally emphatic fashion. When he returned to the dressing room to our congratulations, his reaction suggested there was no relief or sense of vindication in his own mind. It was more like a sense of "well, what did you expect? I told you I'd get some today. What's so surprising about that"?

I remember taking him to see a Test Match at the Gabba in 1989. Aravinda De Silva scored a slow century and Asoka De Silva (of umpiring fame these days) batted for some time as a nightwatchman, eking out runs until he got cleaned up just before lunch. It was fairly ponderous going by today's standards but not ridiculously slow batting in the context of Test cricket at the time. Halfway through the day, Matthew got up from his seat, thanked me for the free ticket and said "this is just bull****. When I play for Australia, I'm not going to allow anyone to tie me down like this. I'm not going to sit here and watch this rubbish".

And true to his word, he rarely allowed anyone to tie him down. He might have holed out trying to break the shackles but every time he batted in Test cricket, I was reminded of this young man who had barely started playing senior club cricket, telling himself that this was "bull****". Renowned later on in his career for much more colourful language than this, he nonetheless batted in this vein throughout his career, always looking to dominate and refusing to allow the innings to drift aimlessly. It is that sort of memory that makes me hesitate about writing off this latest comeback.

I suppose at some point age will catch up with self-belief and he might make one rash statement too many. Maybe this will be his Waterloo. There will be many around the world who frowned upon the abrasive way he played the game but don't let that emotion be confused with doubting his ability to succeed at something he puts his mind to. It certainly wasn't the way I played my cricket. I did not have the talent or inclination to play the game The Hayden Way but what I did learn from him was that self-belief can be the most potent drug in sport.

There's still a little bit of me that wonders if he can pull off this latest stunt but I'm not prepared to bet against it. Yes, I wonder why he's risking his reputation at this stage to get knocked over by some fresh-faced youngsters, and, yes, I wonder if his reputation or bank balance really needs this adrenaline surge but one thing's for sure - you can be 100% convinced that Matt Hayden truly believes that Matt Hayden will score big runs. He knows no other way of thinking. That is his brand.That is The Hayden Way.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane