Watching Matthew Hayden bat is like looking at a character from a cricket video game. There is a surreal element to the way he bats. You think it can only happen in Xbox. He swipes, heaves, walks down the track, hits one-handed sixes and does almost whatever he wants. Imperiousness is his calling card.
Either side of the rain break the Centurion crowd lapped it up. They loved his violence, especially those watching in the bar. Hayden's batting might not have been appreciated while playing against South Africa but in the IPL he is a big hit with the locals. Collective gasps of incredulity went up with several shots; vodka shots were downed after watching the replays on the big screen. It was like being in a bar full of Tony Greig clones screaming: "Whaddaaaplayaaaa!"
Alternatively, Hayden's 89 off 58 balls, with eight fours and six sixes, was like watching a slasher movie. There was a shot off Sreesanth that captured the spirit. He heaved his heavy frame across the stumps and, as Sreesanth tried to cramp him with a short ball, he went for a pull, taking the bottom hand off the handle, allowing him to complete the arcing swing. The white ball soared through the dark sky and settled somewhere in the long-leg stands.
"He is a particularly over-rated bowler," Hayden said later, indicating he deliberately went after Sreesanth. "He loses his cool under pressure." There was a bit of needle between the two players. Asked what the chat was about, Hayden said: "It's not worth repeating."
Many of his shots were definitely worth repeating. If he was brutal against Sreesanth, he was dismissive of the spin. He walked down the track to Piyush Chawla and lunged forward to waft over wide long-on. Then there were more of his typical heaves over midwicket.
When chatting with Hayden about his batting, he uses regular phrases such as "I am in the zone most times I am out in the middle" and "there is no bowler that worries me". Arrogance and false bravado to us, perhaps, a statement of fact to him, like the sun rising in the east.
Perhaps it's his way of not allowing any self-doubt to creep in. When seeing some of the shots he plays, you can see why he thinks that way. Though he makes it seem ridiculously easy, the real secret lies in his practice.
During his international career, he was probably the batsman who practised the hardest before a game. He would hit an absurdly high number of balls in the nets. The rest of the Australians and the opposition would pack up and go but Hayden would still be hitting the balls. It's no different in the IPL.
When asked how he was enjoying the IPL he said: "Great fun to be back. Just going tuk tuk [he gestures his swipes over midwicket] and they are all connecting well." If he keeps knocking them around like he has been doing, Chennai should make it through to the semi-finals easily.