India v Australia, 3rd Test, Delhi, 3rd day October 31, 2008

The return of Matt the Bat

Ali Cook
Throughout this series Australia have needed a strong man at the top to show the way and the usual Matthew Hayden has re-appeared

Matthew Hayden hit his first half-century of the series and led Australia's response to India's 613 © Getty Images

In the lead-up to the third Test Matthew Hayden spoke about the need to impose himself on India and his musings on positive intent didn't seem to make sense. With 42 runs in the first two games, he was Australia's most out-of-form batsman and in Mohali had tried to blast his way into the minds of India's bowlers with a method that was too aggressive even for Twenty20.

It didn't matter that Hayden's justification was as hazy to an outsider as the Delhi smog. It made sense to him, and with some tinkering to his outlook Australia have benefitted significantly. Throughout this series they have needed a strong man at the top to show the way and the usual Hayden has re-appeared.

There was none of the hurry of the previous Test - the hare in the initial partnership was Simon Katich, who raced to 64 - and Hayden was in control of his tempo. It is one of his favourite words. Even when he was hit twice by bouncers in Zaheer Khan's opening over, first on the helmet and then on the shoulder, he was not flustered.

"Today I really set myself to bat a long time," he said. "I felt relaxed from ball one, and through last night as well." After being hit he had a look at his helmet and a chat to Katich before refocusing. Hayden is a hard man to break for long.

Zaheer had caused most of Hayden's worries in the opening games, but he negotiated the threat and was able to move through the phases of his three-stage plan for India. (Conquer the new ball, use the pace of it from 15 to 50 overs and then manipulate the softer, spinning ball.) "Every Test innings I have a strategy," he said. "There are so many different variations of conditions.

"Reverse was never a big issue here, so my strategy was built around that." He was desperate to bat for long enough to test himself against India's slow bowlers and for the first time in the series he was able to engage in a lengthy contest.

"With 600 on the board, it required a more traditional type of innings, one that occupied the crease and took advantage of the loose ball," Hayden said. "The conditions were different, the reverse [swinging] ball was not coming into play, so the scoring opportunities were against the spinners."

Only towards the end of the innings did he start to struggle. His footwork became less secure and, at times, his downswing more tentative. An edge fell short of Rahul Dravid at slip and a full-blooded strike to midwicket almost ended up with Anil Kumble - but split the webbing in the captain's left hand instead. A hard, straight drive followed off Virender Sehwag, then Hayden played back to the offspinner and was out lbw, although it looked a touch high.

He has had three doubtful decisions during the series and was slow to leave following Billy Bowden's judgment. He departed 17 short of a century, but had given Australia an important boost in the chase of India's 613 for 7. Without Hayden's composure and Katich's company during the 123-run opening stand, Australia would have been in serious trouble and with only one likely result in the series.

Instead they reached 338 for 4 at stumps and were in their brightest mood since Bangalore. "It was a very good day for Australia," Hayden said. "Four for 300 was a good result. "We're very confident, we've got a good batting line-up to come. There are some challenging conditions to face, especially with spin, but it is one we are going to enjoy."

Hayden's focused lead was followed by Ponting and Michael Hussey as the batsmen used up time as well as chipped off runs. Both are important goals heading into the final two days when the pitch should deteriorate. In the opening Tests the Australians clicked only once as a batting unit, but this time they were led, as requested, by their most experienced man.

Hayden was 37 on Wednesday and the ticking of his career was starting to get louder. He softened the throbbing with a vital innings - just as he knew he would - and helped his team in a highly valuable way.