Matthew Hayden, Australia's out-of-form opener, wants to continue to test the temperament of Zaheer Khan in the third Test starting Wednesday despite his own struggles against the India fast bowler. Hayden said there was "method behind my madness" in the second innings in Mohali, where he blasted to 29 from 20 balls, as a way of getting on top of Zaheer, who has dismissed him three times in the series.
The Australians feel the aggressive approach, which included Hayden charging the first ball of the innings from Zaheer, has worked already. Zaheer was fined 80% of his match fee for his subsequent wild celebration and dance around Hayden when the batsman was dismissed by Harbhajan Singh in the second innings.
"His temperament, as we saw, it was revealed the other day by his send-off," Hayden said. "He loses consistency and control when he does do that. It's something that even if I don't do [play aggressively at the start] for the rest of the series, it's something that is in the back of his mind. And I can use that to my advantage."
Hayden has been able to out-muscle Zaheer in limited-overs tournaments, particularly the 2003 World Cup final, but he has failed to assert himself on this trip. Zaheer removed Hayden for 0, 13 and 0 in his first three innings of the tour before the brief explosion last week.
"Zaheer Khan has been put under pressure a lot by myself and [Adam Gilchrist] in all the tournaments we've played in one-dayers," Hayden said. "I've also tried to emulate that when we've played Tests. I just feel like he's vulnerable when he's like that."
Hayden is a target for the Indians and his lean spell is one of the key reasons Australia will start from a 1-0 deficit in Delhi. He will continue to employ "positive intent" with his batting, mainly because India's influence on the second Test, which the home side won by 320 runs, weakened slightly in the second innings before they recovered and Australia collapsed to 58 for 5.
"We saw straight away when that happened, there were blokes going in every direction in the outfield," he said. "I guess the challenge then put on me is how do I handle it? If I get through that stage, I have to handle the next phase, then mark that as an opportunity to work and manipulate the ball around."
Hayden has devised a strategy for exiting his bad patch and coping with the changing nature of an innings in India. He stayed at the team hotel in Delhi instead of travelling during the three-day break and focussed on his determination to "bat long".
"There are three unique stages of the game here that I have had a bit more of a think about," he said. "If you watch the way Virender Sehwag goes about his cricket, or any of them go about their cricket, the new ball is there to be hit. With the flatter ball, from 15 overs to 50 overs, there is a lot of use of pace, a lot of nudging into gaps, and not so many big scoring areas down the ground and in front of the wicket.
"Then it is the softer ball and spinning ball, which is the stage I really want to get involved in. I know it's a stage where I have got a great strength, being able to manipulate the spin and manipulate the ball even though it is soft."
Hayden will not restructure his overall outlook, but he has thought about the changes necessary to cope with balls moving back into him. Zaheer and Ishant Sharma have troubled all of Australia's batsmen with their significant reverse-swing and the home side's supremacy is due to the performance of the attack.
"Technically there are some things that you need to do differently," he said. "The traditional batsmen like myself and Ricky [Ponting], who take our heads and feet to the line of the ball, are vulnerable if you actually get a ball swinging or seaming back into the stumps.
"The ball is not going over the stumps here. The reason why we do that in Australia is to cover the bounce. If you stay inside the line of the ball with your feet going down the wicket, you just get nicked off for fun. Here you just hedge your bets a bit with the way your feet are going to go, then use your hands and eyes to hit the ball. That's the subtle difference of playing cricket on wickets that don't bounce."
What is most important for Australia is the senior men contribute as a unit. Hayden and Brett Lee have been unable to do that in the series while Ponting also had a quiet game in Mohali. "When you look at it, myself and Binga do need to play good cricket," he said. "We're a vital part of that leadership group."