Hayden back to haunt the Kiwis
After watching Matthew Hayden top-score for Australia in the first ODI with 71, it is hard to believe there was talk of his not being selected for this series. If the Australian selectors did indeed ponder leaving Hayden at home to play Pura Cup as preparation for the Tests before deciding to bring him after all, today's knock proved they got it right for more than one reason.
In adding 133 with Ricky Ponting, Hayden set his side on the way to victory, and found form after a lean trot. He had averaged just 21.73 over his past 11 ODI innings, but here Hayden made it to 50 in the 23rd over, before two boundaries off Scott Styris - a vicious pull and an aerial straight-drive - were signs of a batsman full of confidence once again.
It was also significant that Hayden posted a decent score early, in the slower New Zealand conditions. The ease with which he accumulated runs against NZ's opening attack also means that he has gained a mental edge. Had he not been chosen for the one-dayers, that might not have happened.
The last time New Zealand enjoyed consistent success against Australia was three years back, in the VB Series. Coincidentally, Hayden was not picked then to play the matches against New Zealand. Instead he played the first two games against South Africa, as the Aussies experimented at the top of the order, before being dropped from the side altogether.
That came after a Test series against New Zealand in which he scored 297 runs at 59.40, and shared in two double-century stands with Justin Langer. Such was his dominance over New Zealand's bowling, that it was inexplicable how the selectors did not see fit use him. Even the second-string wicketkeeper Ryan Campbell opened in one match. The result was three consecutive victories to New Zealand over Australia, and a rare absence from their own finals party for the hosts.
Matches against New Zealand have been happy hunting grounds for Hayden. Today's venue, Westpac Stadium, was also the scene of his return to the one-day team in February 2000 after a six-year absence. After racing to 64 off 68 balls that day, Hayden finished the series with an average of 47.75, and a strike rate of 85. That good form catapulted him back into the Test side, in place of Greg Blewett, for the final match of the series - and from there, Hayden established himself as the premier opening batsman in Test cricket. Then when Mark Waugh lost form during the 2002 VB Series, it was not long before Hayden was recalled to partner Adam Gilchrist in what has become a long and fruitful association in the shorter form of the game.
Using Michael Clarke in the opening role is a policy not without merit, and may well be the long-term option. However in the context of this tour, giving Hayden another shot was essential - and, on the evidence of today's display, his success against New Zealand is set to continue.
Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.