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Peter English at the Sydney Cricket Ground
October 14, 2005
Long-term players dropped from one form of the game can feel like intruders when they sign-on for specialist duty. They haven't been on holiday, but they return unsure whether someone has their seat. Matthew Hayden made sure he will stay for the summer with his second century in consecutive Tests and his 22nd overall.
Hayden's low-key Ashes tour resulted in his axing from the ODI squad in a push for less-worn faces and this morning the uncertainty showed. With Langer departing in the first over to a ball he needed to defend instead of drive, Hayden also wanted to dominate and stuttered until he began aiming well-placed singles.
At The Oval last month a cautious century saved his career and the wait-and-see approach rather than race-you-to-fifty outlook will become part of his game. By lunch he had only 28 and was pleased with his new method. "By the fifth Test [in England] I had a very good batting strategy and was patient, looking to build an innings over a long period of time," he said. "It's certainly the way I'd like to continue playing at Test level."
Shaky starting signs appeared again after lunch when Hayden survived a close third-umpire's decision padding up to Steve Harmison. "I thought I was dead," Hayden said afterwards. Early rustiness is a regular affliction for players in their mid-30s - Hayden is 34 this month - and once they reach fifty, as Hayden did with two powerful, beautiful drives off Andrew Flintoff, they usually insist on a lasting impression.
Adam Gilchrist's unbeaten 94 was more spectacular, but Hayden succeeded in making a prominent etching before crossing his chest on reaching three figures during a calm celebration. "This has been one of the more difficult periods, not just for me but for all the batsmen," he said. "I've loved my opportunities playing one-day cricket and it's interesting being away watching in my lounge chair with a latte. It's hard to take."
The old battering ram may become a brutal memory but Hayden's feet are snug under the desk. When he relaxed today his boundaries were pounded with a bat as broad as his huge forearms, and the cover, mid-off and square-leg fieldsmen were given much of the work.
While Hayden has remodelled, Gilchrist's game has refreshed following his Ashes stumbles. As stumps approached his clean hitting forced four men to the legside boundary for Daniel Vettori, who he had planted for three sixes towards a sponsor's new car at midwicket.
Gilchrist has taken a liking to the SCG this year and realised his 113 against Pakistan in January was special when those close to him were still raving about it the following day. Smooth and in control, he varied his pace spectacularly today before bad light ended his plan to reach a century. As darkness fell the health of two of Australia's Ashes casualties had been restored.
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