Hayden warns Australians on reverse-swing
Matthew Hayden has been retired for only six months but in that time has seen enough of Phillip Hughes to feel comfortable with Australia's opening combination for the Ashes. However, he has warned his former team-mates to prepare for a demanding battle with reverse-swing in a contest that could determine the direction of the urn.
While Hayden does not rate England's current attack as highly as the '05 version, he has predicted a tough time for Australia's batsmen and called on the top three of Hughes, Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting to set the platform and protect the middle order. "We saw reverse-swing come into the game last series and I expect to see the same thing this time," he said. "If we see No. 1 to No. 3 managing themselves nicely, it puts the middle order into a position where they can be a bit more comfortable against the reverse ball, and you do have to have that strength."
Four years ago Hayden was one of the many Australians mesmerised by the late movement from Flintoff, Harmison, Jones and Hoggard and it was only a century at The Oval that saved his career. He stepped down in January after 103 Tests and his spot was taken by Hughes, who scored two hundreds in his first three matches before a strong Ashes warm-up in the County Championship with Middlesex.
"He's got all the evidence and all the skill-sets he needs," Hayden said. "His humbling personality and how respectful he is are two elements of the baggy-green culture. He'll be fine."
However, Hayden reminded Hughes and Katich of the dangers of playing in the United Kingdom. "England is a challenging place for an opening combination," he said. "The engine room of cricket is No. 1 to No. 3 and they have to get off to a good start, but in England it's the most challenging time to bat."
While both teams fret over the make-up of their teams, Hayden also had a few questions about the side, wondering what would happen with Andrew McDonald and the allrounder's spot and how Australia would cope without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. One thing he wasn't in doubt over was the future of Brett Lee. "I think he is going to come back really strong and answer his critics," he said.
The men's team isn't the only national outfit to be in England over the next couple of months, with the women's side also contesting Test and one-day series and the National Indigenous Development Squad playing 11 games on a tour emulating the 1868 Aboriginal team. Hayden presented that squad with their caps in Brisbane on Friday before offering advice during their final training session before departure.
"The natural skills and ability of the boys is second to none," he said. "I will be absolutely baffled if Australia do not have an indigenous baggy-green player in the years to come."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo