September 16, 2010

Haydos the suit

The former opener is just as much at ease with his new surroundings as he was facing up to Test new-ball bowlers. Developing the game while keeping the fans in mind is what occupies his time now

At the sunset of their careers, the more aware players start to wonder how they will give something back to the game that consumed their lives. A club stalwart can promise to coach a junior team, a confident international might hope to deliver opinions via commentary and a handful in the elite group can consider marrying business and philanthropic pursuits. Matthew Hayden exited the Test scene in 2009 at the top and gained a raft of engagements that included an appointment as a Cricket Australia director.

Eight months after stepping down with 8625 runs from 103 Tests, he replaced Allan Border as Queensland Cricket's delegate on the national board. A room filled with suits worn by senior businessmen and administrators seems like a strange place for Hayden, a 38-year-old outdoors man, to end up in. The staid setting and lengthy discussions over strategy and process are also the opposite of his sharp on-field responses with the bat or from the slips. However, Hayden, the board's youth policy, says becoming involved was "a pretty natural instinct".

"I'm juggling a new business, a young family, the start of a very busy and fruitful life post-cricket," he said before joining Chennai for the Champions League Twenty20. "But I'm really driven to be involved in the game, to be in a position to give back to a game which has given a lot to me.

"I feel like I can make a contribution to the game [at board level]. At the centre of cricket are two key areas. One is game development and one is elite performance. And that's a constant juggling act."

Hayden is understating his situation when he says he's "got a full life". In between his training and Twenty20 commitments with Chennai, he has hosted a six-episode lifestyle TV show, worked with his developing company, fished, surfed and cooked. On top of that he has fulfilled the honorary positions with the Queensland and Australian boards.

In his first year as an administrative bigwig one of Hayden's portfolios has, naturally, been the cricket committee. His other ministries are women in cricket ("The game needs the mums of the world to understand that cricket is a good game") and indigenous communities ("A terrific honour for me").

Hayden grew up in Kingaroy, in country Queensland, so understands the issues faced by indigenous people. In July he raised A$250,000, through his company's corporate fishing challenge, for a sustainability programme for the Tiwi college in the Northern Territory. He also hosted a game there involving Allan Border, Michael Kasprowicz and Andy Bichel. "As the stars have aligned, they have really put me in the box seat as to the controlling interest for growing our sport in our regional and indigenous communities," he said.

Board-member decisions are often low profile but the men gained more exposure over the past three months with the key issues of John Howard's rejection for the ICC vice-presidency and the adoption of 45-over split-innings games for the domestic one-day season. The Australian directors were angry at the way Howard was treated and the decision to move away from the usual format has been unpopular with the players.

"I feel we're on the cusp of change and throughout my career whenever I had some adversity surrounding my cricket, I'd always go about changing to become a better player. Really that's no different to what cricket is going through now as an administration and as a game"
Hayden on his role in the board's cricket committee

Hayden's role on the cricket committee involved deciding on the rules and changes to the new event, so it would "naturally balance 50-over cricket and the domestic competition". "I feel we're on the cusp of change and throughout my career whenever I had some adversity surrounding my cricket, I'd always go about changing to become a better player," he said. "Really that's no different to what cricket is going through now as an administration and as a game. To see there are some opportunities which exist amongst a really changing consumer market, to make the necessary adjustments - they don't have to be radical - to be able to become better as a sport."

It is Hayden's closeness to the modern game that makes him so attractive to the board, but the group also worked closely with him when he was on the Australian Cricketers' Association's executive. (The powerbrokers were also the ones who reprimanded him for calling Harbhajan Singh an "obnoxious weed" in 2008.) Back then Hayden was effectively in the opposition party to Cricket Australia's government, fighting for the rights of the members.

"You had to have the courage of your conviction and understand what was important to the players even if it wasn't necessarily my view," he said. "I just think it was also a really good foundation to develop a healthy relationship."

During their playing days Hayden and Adam Gilchrist were groomed for higher office by being invited to presentations from senior management on marketing, game development, high performance and vilification. Throw in Hayden's studies in business and he brings a useful resumé even without his playing knowledge.

"But being a director who understands, from an athlete's point of view, what the kind of absolutely necessary ingredients which go into key performance are, brings a really different level of understanding to the table," he said. Mark Taylor, the former Australia captain, also sits in the Cricket Australia boardroom. The two left-handers were opening partners in only six Tests during the 1990s, but are now key men in plotting the future of the off-field team.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo