"There's players who play the game. There's players who absolutely love the game" said Doc Rivers – coach of the Boston Celtics, in appreciation of Paul Pierce – after the latter had put in an all star effort to take Boston home in a hard fought game against the Toronto Raptors. On the same day – Doc's words seem to ring true for another great of modern day sport – Matthew Hayden. The beefy Australian opener finally decided to walk away from the game for good, after clobbering bowlers into submission for close to a decade.
Statistics never do real justice to a man's legacy, even when holding him in good light. In Hayden's case a career batting average of 50.73 runs in test cricket, makes him Australia's greatest opener of all time (openers with a minimum of 40 test matches under their belt). The same figure however, doesn't give any inkling of the effect, Hayden's towering figure had on men duty bound to bowl the ball at him. In a game, where 22 yards can often look too small a distance between bowler and batsman, images of Hayden walking down the ground to smash fast bowlers over long on and deep mid wicket, made for many a Kodak moment.
There were various aspects to Hayden, which endeared him to spectators. His presence on the field was reassuring, his catching ability at slip exceptional and there always seemed to be a buzz around him when he took to the field. His preparation before a game, time spent sitting at the batting crease with bat in hand, attempting a kind of karmic connection with conditions on offer, made for intriguing viewing.
While much is made of the way Haydos manhandled fast bowlers, any praise directed towards his ability to play spin seems insufficient. His 549 runs on the tour of India in 2001, was a dissertation on the subject. A match winning score of 130, in the second innings of the first test at Galle in 2004, re-emphasized Hayden's undisputed virtuosity in the area. When he used his feet down the ground to the spinners or when his burly biceps swept them out of the attack, Hayden was a heady concoction of a ballerina's grace married to the brute strength of a butcher's blade.
It might seem a strange coincidence, but of the few test series Australia lost since the turn of the century – Hayden struggled for runs in most, whether it be the Ashes of 2005, against India in 2008 or just recently in the series against South Africa. Clearly fortress Australia, seemed all that more impregnable with Hayden batting in fifth gear right at the top. It could be argued one way or the other that his loss of form in the last year purely mirrored the economic downturn across the world and that Hayden still had a couple of years of cricket left in him. His departure in times of strife for his side, clearly show that he will be sorely missed. But by way of deed, over the course of a glittering career, Hayden has ensured that he shall never be forgotten.