Matthew Hayden re-dominates the ring March 29, 2007

Prizefighter's gloves are back on

Matthew Hayden has completed another remarkable renaissance



Raw power: Matthew Hayden has back-to-back World Cup centuries during a flood of recent runs © Getty Images

When Matthew Hayden was dropped from Australia's one-day side after the 2005 Ashes tour, it seemed the end of the road had been reached for a batsman who, for a short but blistering period in the early 2000s, was the most powerful player in the game. Many have presented better techniques or shown greater deftness of touches, but none had carried themselves quite like Hayden, a prizefighter who wielded his bat much as Muhammad Ali used to wield a right fist.

At the end of that series Hayden had been found out. He was a bully, albeit a mighty effective one. His successes and failures against, in particular, Matthew Hoggard became the stuff of playground legend. The weakling who had once been swung over midwicket for fun was now weaving and bending and ducking between the legs, and showing up a mighty player for the lumpen and ponderous individual he had become. When, at The Oval, in the dying hours of that Ashes contest, Hayden scored an agonisingly slow and determined Test century, it seemed to be the last twitch of a fallen Goliath.

In fact, it was merely the beginning of a remarkable renaissance. In Tests, Hayden seized upon his lifeline and embarked on a scoring spree to rival his millennium mountain. He raised centuries in each of his next three Tests, and added two more before the end of 2006. But in the one-dayers his recall proved elusive, as Australia tinkered at the top of the order, with Simon Katich, Phil Jaques and even Shane Watson coming in for a test drive. Eventually the selectors twigged, there was no alternative.

Hayden had to endure an even longer spell on the sidelines at the start of his Test career - between his debut in March 1994 and his recall six years later, he played in just six matches (he hasn't missed a game since). And once again the hunger of exile has spurred him to greater heights and few have been greater than his feats of the past month. Australia have topped 300 in six consecutive innings, and Hayden's contributions have been three centuries and a 60, among those a career-best 181 not out at Hamilton and a World Cup-record 66-ball hundred at Basseterre.



Caps off: Hayden's career looked headed for the history books in 2005 © AFP

But none, surely, has been greater than his effort on Tuesday. An innings compiled under cloud cover, on a virgin wicket, at a new stadium, against the host nation, in a World Cup. He took 18 balls to score his first run, but eventually left the crease with 158 from just 143 deliveries. Such a blend of power and willpower are the ingredients that can deliver a third consecutive world title for this ultimate heavyweight.

The numbers game
Hayden went to Perth for the CB Series match against New Zealand in late January with his place under threat. Since then he has played 12 games, posted four hundreds, three fifties and clattered 850 runs at 77.27.

What they say
"So many batsmen and bowlers get weak in World Cups. That's the main one, the World Cup. To get strong around this period is a sign of what a servant he has been to Australia over the years." Viv Richards

"He believed he should have been in the side, but the selectors didn't at that point in time. He forced his way back in, and now he's making every post a winner. He's not sitting on one score, but he's actually preparing for the next game and trying to make that his next best score." John Buchanan

What he says
"I've had to show a lot of commitment and passion, first to get back into the one-day side - and in particular, to represent Australia at the World Cup. It took a lot to get into this position and I'm just very pleased for the supporters, selectors and Ricky Ponting that it is paying off."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo