January 18, 2009

Hayden among the savages

Where did Australia's belligerent opener rank among others of similar vintage and style?

Hayden's true ability is somewhere between his hesitant start and incredible peak © PA Photos

Now that Matthew Hayden has retired, only Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee remain from the record-breaking Australian side that won an incredible 16 Test victories in a row under Steve Waugh's captaincy.

Hayden will be sorely missed. It's no coincidence that he was either injured or struggling for form in all of Australia's five recent Test losses. His dual ability to both intimidate the opposition and inflate his team-mates is a rare quality and it won't be easily replaced. There are two questions that arise following his departure: how good was Hayden, and who will replace him?

The eulogies for the belligerent opener include a ranking among the ICC top ten Test batsmen and many comments similar to Ponting's statement, "Look through the history books of the game and try and see if there has ever been a better opening batsman."

It's pointless arguing the merits of batsmen from different eras, but comparing those of similar vintage and style has some value. In Hayden's case two come to mind: Michael Slater of Australia and Virender Sehwag of India.

It should be recalled that Hayden rarely played in the highly successful Australian side from the mid-to late nineties because Slater was regularly dominating opposition fast bowling. The pair made their first tour to England in 1993, where Slater won the battle to be Mark Taylor's opening partner. Slater's position at the top of the order was never seriously challenged from then, until he began to encounter health problems. That was a big plus in Slater's favour.

Statistically speaking, if you drop the matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (neither of whom should be playing Test cricket) there's little between Hayden and Slater. Staying in (balls faced per innings) and scoring runs quickly are two important aspects of batting and Slater is just ahead in both categories if you use a strike-rate-by-era comparison.

The other big decider is that Slater encountered superior pace bowling - bowlers of the highest calibre in Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers and Darren Gough at or near their peak, and flayed them on occasions.

Against those same bowlers Hayden had some of his worst moments, albeit early in his Test career. When he returned to the Australian side the standard of fast bowling had dropped off considerably. And Hayden's dip in form against the good attacks of England 2005 and more recently India and the current South African side was a reminder of his early-career struggles.

There's no doubt Hayden worked hard to improve his batting and he enjoyed a golden period following his mammoth scoring in India 2001. His true ability is somewhere between his hesitant start and incredible peak, though his worth to a successful side has been far greater.

In the Tests where Hayden and Sehwag were opposed, their records are almost identical. Sehwag has the better average score (aggregate divided by innings) and run-rate, while Hayden averaged slightly more balls faced per innings. Overall there's little between the bowlers they faced, with Australia's being superior in those early exchanges, while lately India has had the better balanced attack. There's no doubt both play a big part in their team's success.

Hayden against Slater and Sehwag
Player M Inns NO Runs HS Ave Ave Score BF BF/I RR Era RR RR/ Era RR 100s IPC 50s
Hayden 15 29 2 1339 136 49.59 46.17 2036 70.21 3.95 3.37 1.17 4 7.25 6
Sehwag 14 28 1 1400 195 51.85 50.00 1890 67.50 4.44 3.14 1.42 3 9.33 6
Hayden 96 174 13 7768 203 48.25 44.64 13156 75.61 3.54 3.40 1.04 27 6.44 26
Slater 73 129 6 5308 219 43.15 41.15 9942 77.07 3.20 2.96 1.08 14 9.21 21

BF - Balls faced, RR - Run-rate, IPC - Innings per century. Innings against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been excluded. Hayden-Sehwag comparison is for series in which they have played against each other

Now, who will replace Hayden?

There are primarily three candidates under consideration - Phil Jaques, Phil Hughes and Chris Rogers; all left-handers but none with the imposing aura of Hayden.

However, there is another option. He's also left-handed and has the potential to dominate opposition bowlers. David Warner, the pocket dynamo from New South Wales has yet to play a first-class game, but in Twenty20 cricket he has displayed the potential to victimise international bowlers.

The selectors have now elevated him to the one-day side, but they also need to find out if he has the same effect on opponents in the longer version of the game. This means Warner should open for NSW in Sheffield Shield cricket, but they already have two openers. Also, both Jaques and Hughes are pushing their claims for a Test berth.

This creates a dilemma for the NSW selectors, but it's worth the aggravation to discover whether Warner really is a dynamic opener in all forms of the game. The selectors need to find out quickly so that Warner can be included in the England touring party if he succeeds in Shield cricket.

Hayden could intimidate bowlers with his skill, belligerent attitude and bulky frame. Warner doesn't have the build of Hayden, but as both Slater and Sehwag showed, it's not size that matters - it's packing a punch at the top of the order that really counts.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ed on January 21, 2009, 14:29 GMT

    I would like to see how many occasions he has top scored for his side in an innings, or indeed in a match. If we really want to prove or disprove the flattrack bully reputation, then it would surely be informative to look at the amount of times he prospered when his teammates couldn't?

  • Ravi on January 21, 2009, 12:31 GMT


    The fact is Hayden would have spent less time in the field before opening whenever Australia batted second. With Warne and McGrath demolishing teams, Hayden most ofent did not face the pressure of having to surmount huge first innings total.

    Don't underestimate the fact that Hayden was surrounded by great players! Is it a coincidence that in the last year, even the awesome Ponting has become less stellar (When many of the great players retired)?

  • Ravi on January 21, 2009, 12:23 GMT

    Hayden should not rank among the all-time greats, probably not even the comtemporary greats. He was an excellent player, but that is about it. He was lucky to be part of a team that had many great players. He struggled whenever the Australian team has not been great (pre 1995 and post 2006). It's merely a conicidence? If you want to establish that he was indeed a great player, show me the number of times he did well when others around him struggled. Sehwag, Gavaskar and Lara have all done that. He has been "not out" 14 times. That is too high for an opening batsman. Without the numbers to back up, it is reasonable to guess that most of those "not outs" came when in the fourth innings Australia required 150 or so to seal the match and Hayden faced demoralised bowlers that no hope. For those who argue that Hayden faced fresh bowlers, so did all openers.

  • Sal on January 21, 2009, 11:49 GMT

    I couldn't quite work out whether this article was intended to praise Slater (Chappell's fellow Channel 9 commentator), discredit Hayden or a bit of both. Either way I find this article an insult to Matt Hayden. If you read carefully it has been done in a subtle way by Chappell. Slater was a good opening batsman for Australia. However, Hayden is a class (or two) above Slater. Hayden was much better than his test average of 50.73. He was an aggressive opener and I lost count of the number of times he was dismissed playing a big shot. Had he batted conservatively (like Gavaskar or Boycott) his average would have been a lot higher. But that wasn't his style and that's what made him a pleasure to watch in ALL forms of the game. In 2000 I can remember him being run out twice by his batting partner in Brisbane and Adelaide tests when he looked set to make big scores. His batting partner was none other than Michael Slater. Hayden is the greatest opening batsman Australia has ever produced.

  • Rajesh on January 20, 2009, 18:56 GMT

    Hayden was good, very good but perhaps not in the same bracket as Gavaskar or Barry Richards....... I'm not taking anything away from Hayden, he was bloody good, even great but perhaps just a bit short of all-time greatness....... As for the comments here about Virender Sehwag he is a maverick. And what a maverick ! A one of a kind !! And it won't be fair to judge him till he is finished..........

  • Balaji on January 20, 2009, 16:54 GMT

    Ian Chappell is not conveying the total contribution done by Hayden. Why compare only Test innings?? What about other forms of cricket? ODI's and Twenty Twenties. It is an absolute insult to compare Hayden with Warner as of today. As far as comparision with Michael Slater Hayden has played roughly 25% more test cricket than Slater and therefore Hayden has contributed more. Hayden has more runs, more average than any other Australian opening batsmen. Last but not the least Hayden has contributed more to Australian cricket as a player than Ian Chappell himnself.

  • Ben on January 20, 2009, 14:28 GMT

    Slater is slightly better then Sehwag and Hayden is way better then Slater. Neither Sehwag or Slater deserve to be mentioned in the same breathe as Matthew Hayden, to be honest. Neither of them would be able to score 30 Test hundreds in 94 matches no matter what era they played in.

    A good core of Sehwag's matches have been played in the subcontient. His not to dissimilar to Chris Gayle; as both are flat-footed and just slog. If Sehwag was in Gayle's position then he'd struggle to average over 40.

    The idea of Hayden being a flat-track bully is a total myth. Curtly Ambrose is the only bowler who can say he really got the better of Matthew Hayden. Hayden scored International 100's against Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, Shoaib, Murali, Pollock, Donald, Kumble, Walsh, Ntini and Flintoff - That's a fact!

  • Ed on January 20, 2009, 12:30 GMT

    Interesting article. But I don't believe that anyone should be revising history and removing stats from anyones record. Hayden faced the opposition put in front of him and scored the runs, this cannot be taken away from him. I will tell you personally that plenty of English bowlers in the past who bowled a full off stump length to Bradman, were pitiful. Do we recalibrate his stats? NO. Neither should this be done with Hayden, otherwise you end up with an Average for the Don of 56 (Bodyline series 32). I have seen enough videos of very average bowling in the 50s - 80s, where this era maybe should also be revised. So don't give Hayden a diservice. Otherwise you appear to begrudge his success. He has given his fans a huge service over his test career. He is a GREAT player.

  • ShortMemory on January 20, 2009, 10:46 GMT


    I would have wished to see a line or two on how hayden handles spin bowling ! If you look at "Bowlers of the highest calibre" you should also look at spinners. And hayden had been magnificient against the top quality spin ! In contemperory cricket, opener needs to play well against spin too. And the era of good fast bowling (80's) had good spinners but no "Anil" or "murali" or "harbhajan against aussies"

  • ShortMemory on January 20, 2009, 10:40 GMT

    sFAy, Even if you drop 115 wickets from murali, he ends up somewhere around 500 plus. So, i don't think any sort of stats or any intrepretation of the same would take even a bit of murali's achievement !

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