Matthew Hayden conquered the MCG with his sixth Test hundred in the stadium before calling it the toughest surface he had batted on for two years. It was hard to know how serious he was after Australia had scored 337 in a day and his 124 had come from 183 balls. However, as his analysis of the pitch grew and talk of his 28th century was pushed to the background, he became more convincing.
"Quite difficult" was cut to "difficult" and he was certain things would "deteriorate" much more than they did for the drop-in wickets that have held together and forced attritional play during Pura Cup games. Despite the predictions, Hayden felt batting would not get any more challenging than it was in the first 30 overs of the opening day, when they reached 0 for 122. He might have been trying to scare the Indians, but if it does wear like Hayden expects it will become more like a home game for the tourists.
The predictions led Ricky Ponting to bat and Hayden and Jaques survived the early difficulties in a stand of 135 that would produce the innings' highest scores. Instead of things getting easier, they quickly became harder as Australia lost nine batsmen and their ability to follow the tradition of dominating the opening exchanges.
"We lost a few too many wickets, but it was difficult enough and those conditions will be revealed over the next four days," Hayden said. "The fact is we are facing a difficult wicket. The score is definitely a par effort."
Hayden started by going hard at the ball as it seamed in the morning, benefiting from gaps in the slips during a couple of thick edges, and then turned his attention to the spin of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Jaques beat him to fifty and even though Hayden was keeping pace his run-scoring speed was surprising. By the time he reached his century, which was celebrated with a hug from Michael Clarke, he had struck only nine fours, but it came from 126 deliveries.
"It was one of my best Test hundreds because of the conditions we had at hand," he said. "I was pretty pumped, it was great."
The MCG stirs Hayden, who played his first home Test here in 1996-97, and he had extra reasons to perform this time. "I've built this match up more so than any other," he said. "It announces the start of the summer for us."
The series began with an eventful and intriguing first day, but Hayden does not expect things to happen quickly over the rest of the match. "It's definitely going to be a wicket that's going to be hard to score on," he said. "There are slow conditions and I can see us really putting the pressure on through good in-out fields. We'll try to constrict India and I definitely think the wicket's going to deteriorate."
Two years ago Hayden played on an MCG pitch that he said was worse than this one. It was wet on the first day, when he scored 65, but he managed to overcome the difficulties in the second innings with 137. Over the next couple of days his forecasting will be tested.