Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day December 6, 2003

Celebration time for the Haydens

Dileep Premachandran watches Matthew Hayden being honoured for his record-breaking 380, and speaks to his father on Matthew's early days

Matthew Hayden the day after his record-breaking effort
© Getty Images

With the sky washed a permanent Manchester grey, and the drizzle unrelenting, all the action was indoors on the third morning. Two months on from his record-breaking 380 at the WACA in Perth, Matthew Hayden was honoured in the bowels of the stadium where he first made significant strides towards becoming an Australian cricket legend.

The ceremony, missed by the majority of the media, took place during the lunch break in the players' gymnasium. Cricket Australia and Peter Beattie, Premier of Queensland, handed over the mementos to Hayden in front of a smattering of cameras and dictaphones. One souvenir was mounted with the ball that he had belted to go past Brian Lara, while the other was a huge photo frame, comprising six images relating to various phases of his career.

One of the images was of the playground where Matthew and his elder brother Gary had played as kids - with his nephew in the frame. And when he accepted it, it was that picture that caused Hayden to choke with emotion. "I don't know what to say," he said looking at the photograph again and again.

Watching him were Gary and Laurie, his father. After all the photographers had been obliged, the moment captured for Technicolor posterity, Laurie Hayden spoke to me about the early days. "What I really remember is how well Matt and Gary got along as kids. Gary's five years older, but I can't even recall one time when they fought."

What was his favourite Matt memory from those long-ago days? "Well, when Matt was about 15, he was playing in a Cricket Carnival up in Toowoomba. He did well enough there to catch the eye of an A Grade team in Kingaroy," he told me. "When they asked him if he would play for them, he said he would ... provided Gary was also included in the team. The captain ended up dropping himself so that both Matt and Gary could play. If my memory's right, Gary made a 100, and Matt 84."

Hours later, when the sun peeped out to warm some chilled bones, I came across Hayden Senior again, high up in the stands, sipping coffee from a thermos. Gary, the spitting image of his brother, albeit with a receding hairline, was seated next to him, watching Matt take some tremendous slip catches as the team warmed up. Down below, spectators were cheering Matt the Bat's every move.

"I'd say Gary had just as much ability as Matt," said Laurie when we resumed our conversation. "Matt backed himself to go all the way though, while Gary wasn't prepared to sacrifice his career or university studies for cricket. He did play A Grade cricket in Brisbane though."

And what about him? Had he played cricket at any level? "Not really, no. I played for the country club in Kingaroy [Hayden's hometown is north-west of Brisbane, about four hours by road]. After I left school, I managed a dairy farm. And I think you'll agree that a man can't milk cows and play cricket at the same time," he said with a chuckle.

And was Matt a quiet child? "I can't remember, to be honest," he told me. He leant over to Gary and repeated the question. "Not quiet, but well-behaved and thoughtful" was the eventual answer. And when were they aware that he possessed a unique talent? "Very early on actually. When he was as young as four, he'd accompany me and Gary to games. I'd allow him to field on the boundary, but if I looked up ten minutes later, he'd be within ten yards of the batsman. And I'd have to say, `You're too young for that, son.' And after the game was over, he'd come and tug at my trousers and ask, `Can I have a bat, Dad?' Some of the other kids would then bowl to him."

"He was always a strongly built kid, and by the time he was eight, his quick bowling terrified the kids he played with ... most of them would start running off to square leg. By then, he was playing in the U-10s, and could handle both bat and ball, no trouble at all."

When did he think that his son might go all the way and play for Australia? "From the time he started playing as a four-year-old, I thought Matt was exceptional, but you didn't dare to dream of playing for Australia and all that. But as he worked his way through junior-level teams, right up into the Queensland side, it became a possibility."

After a hesitant start to his Test career, Hayden was jettisoned by the selectors, and though he continued to pile on the runs in the Sheffield Shield/Pura Cup, the recall never came. According to Laurie, it wouldn't have either, but for the determination of one man. "Steve Waugh had watched Matt a lot, and played against him. He was the one who told the selectors, `I want this bloke in my team'. I don't think Matt would have got a second chance without Steve."

He gets animated when he talks about the 380. "The first few minutes, I'm always nervous [mimics biting of fingernails for effect]. Once he got past a hundred, I relaxed [leans back on his seat to illustrate]. Nervous again as he approached 200, and then relaxed once he passed it. It was when he got close to Don Bradman's highest score that the nerves really started to kick in ... when he went past the 375, it was unbelievable, the best moment I've had watching Matt down the years."

Laurie insists that 400 would have been possible were it not for Matt's unselfish nature. "Steve Waugh allowed him back out, but I think Matt was worried about how much time the bowlers might have. I think he went too hard because of that. But what the heck, what's 20 runs anyway," he says with a smile.

He tells you that Matt wasn't the sort of child to festoon the walls with pictures of his idols, though AB [Allan Border] was a player he admired greatly. Earlier in the day, Beattie had spoken of how Hayden [Matt] was a wonderful role model for youngsters the world over, especially because of his humility. The look on Hayden Senior's face then was one to cherish, a combination of joy, pride and raw emotion. It was the same expression he wore when I left him, watching Matt palm a catch one-handed with nonchalant ease, about 50 feet below Proud Papa's seat.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following India throughout the course of this Test series.