Matthew Hayden profile
Paul Kane / © Getty Images

Hate to Love

About a bully boy

At his best Matthew Hayden resembled a big, nasty brute terrorising a bunch of kids. Where was the joy in that?

Anthony McGowan |

By nature I'm somewhat pessimistic, but even I have to admit that not everything is getting worse. And I'm genuinely delighted that it's no longer acceptable to pick on a person simply because they belong to a certain group, to make crude generalisations about them, to subject them to mockery and ridicule. But surely there is one category of person who it is okay to loathe, on principle. I speak, of course, of the bully. Everyone who has been to school or worked in an office knows the type - big, bull-necked, barrel-chested, fists like sledgehammers made of sausage meat. Often, but not necessarily, as thick as two short bricks.

You'll have your own versions of the template. My school had "Gaz" Martin, a cheerful oaf who always wore a friendly smile as he punched you in the face and spat in your rice pudding. He and his type ruined school for many kids, filling their days not just with the physical reality of the dead leg and the back-of-the-head slap, but with the fear and anxiety that went with knowing there was someone around who could do whatever he wanted to you, whenever he felt like it.

So, no one would stick up for the bully, which makes me feel like I'm on safe ground when I nominate Matthew Hayden as the cricketer I love to hate.

Standing at slip our devoutly Christian hero would spit out c-words with witless, joyless monotony, like the worst phone sex you've ever had

It might seem a little odd to think of a batsman when discussing the cricketing bully. Would it not be more obvious to point the finger (from a safe distance) at a fast bowler? And I did, from the late-'70s to the mid-'90s, come close to hating the various combinations of grimly wonderful West Indian fast bowlers. They were simply too good. Too good for my heroes, Botham and Gower. But with a couple of exceptions the West Indian quicks were too sublime to feel like bullies. They were just wonderful at their job, whether achieved with the grace of a Holding or the sheer intellectual brilliance of a Marshall. And then there is also the knowledge that these were decent people, who had endured much to earn their glory.

Other fast bowlers might deserve the title bully - Jeff Thomson, perhaps, at his terrifying best, as happy to brutalise club cricketers as to neuter poor "Bumble", turning his ruptured gonads into the sort of thing you'd dunk your tortilla chips in. Perhaps Charlie Griffith was similar.

But, still, bully just seems the wrong word to describe any of these cricketers. It belongs truly to Hayden.

Have bat, will mow into submission

Have bat, will mow into submission © Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Back home with the wife and kids he may be as gentle and delicate as a dandelion clock, a lover of poetry and pottery, a piper on the piccolo, an aficionado of Monteverdi, a dabbler in watercolours. But that doesn't matter - I'm talking about Hayden's on-field persona, and I'm going to pretend that that's all there is, that he looks like an ogre because he is an ogre, that within the bestial exterior, there is a slightly smaller beast, the hateful Russian dolls continuing right down to the atomic level.

Okay, let's get this out of the way. Hayden was a damn fine cricketer. His start may have been ropey, but after he got going, he was the most brutally effective opener in world cricket. At his best he could appear invulnerable, as well as unstoppable. Against even the quickest bowlers he'd walk two, three steps down the track, plant himself, then, if the ball was up, muscle it in the arc between extra cover and midwicket. If the bowler dropped short, he'd cut or pull it hard and high. And even in defence there was a belligerence: his was an angry forward defensive. He'd fill the wicket, fill, at times it appeared, the whole square, making it seem that there was just no way to get him out. He looked like a sixth-former playing with the first-years. And not playing nice. Standing at slip our devoutly Christian hero would spit out c-words with witless, joyless monotony, like the worst phone sex you've ever had.

I once asked loveable moptop Matthew Hoggard which batsman he most dreaded bowling to. He said, without hesitation: Hayden. "It was the way he came at you," he said. "Bloody terrifying."

It was machismo, it was testosterone, it was: "I'm more of a man than you are." It was horrible

And that's what it was. Batting not as the exercising of grace, or even the mathematic compiling of statistics. It was machismo, it was testosterone, it was: "I'm more of a man than you are." It was: "Give me your dinner money, and have this punch as payment." It was horrible.

If you watch the highlights of Hayden's world-record 380 in Perth in 2003 - against, in true bully-boy style, Zimbabwe - you can clearly hear that nearly every six he heaved over long-on or long-off was accompanied by an almost carnal grunt. It was the exact same guttural sound that Gaz Martin emitted when giving a dead arm to some poor waif, back in the schoolyard. And when Hayden hits the run that takes him to the record, you can see from the very muted applause, and the total lack of handshakes, of back slaps, of smiles, what the Zimbabwe players thought of him.

In capturing Hayden's spirit, I almost prefer to quote the man. There's the way he referred to his straight drive as his "bowler killer". And who would not delight in Matty's account of the joy he brings into the lives of others, such as the little boy who has secured the great man's signature (taken from his own website): "His amazing little face, beaming with gratitude, made me realise how powerful is the great gift of giving which is the core philosophy of The Hayden Way."

And let's not forget the squatting, which was evidently not reserved just for when he took guard

And let's not forget the squatting, which was evidently not reserved just for when he took guard Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

However, none of this quite reaches the sublime comedy of one contribution he made when stepping into the Test Match Special commentary box, in 2009. It was one of those dressing-up days, and for some reason, the look du jour involved biblical beards. "That looks like Moses over there," said Hayden. "Hey, Moses, where's your ark?!"

But the real joy, the payoff, if you like, in hating Matty Hayden is that for once the bully boy got his comeuppance. Usually, outside of cowboy films and boys' adventure stories, the bully does fine. They'll go through school picking on the little kids, and then get a job as a management consultant or Tory MP. But for Hayden there was justice. There was the 2005 Ashes series, when the worm turned, when the bully was made to grovel. It began in the one-day match in Edgbaston, when Simon Jones threw the ball at the stumps and tragically hit Hayden in his grotesquely pumped chest. Hayden was outraged, but then quailed when confronted with a bit of England team solidarity. From that moment on, he was lost. His attempts to assert himself over Hoggard kept ending up in the hands of short cover, and the series was won.

Of course there were good days after that for Matty. He finished up with a Test average of over 50. He's a modern great. But it didn't matter, for me, at least. Goliath had tasted the dust.

Anthony McGowan writes novels for adults, teenagers and younger children. He is a keen but ungifted member of the Authors XI cricket team





  • POSTED BY saurab5661247 on | May 26, 2016, 7:33 GMT

    only time i looked taller than him was when he squatted

  • POSTED BY Karthikeyan on | May 17, 2016, 17:57 GMT

    There was method to Hayden's "good-cop-bully-cop" routine in tandem with Langer at the top of the batting order. Of course, Hayden was the "bad-cop," if you will. This worked out so well, that the Hayden-Langer batting average, spread over 113 inns, av'ged 51.88 between '00 & '07, almost matching the RSA duo of Gibbs & Smith of the same period (who av'ged 56.28 in 56 innings between '02 & '08). Also, if you look at 50 inns as the minimum cut-off for the number of inns having opened together, the Hayden-Langer pairing was only second to the great Aussie opening pair of the past; namely, Lawry & Simpson, (who averaged 60.94 in 62 innings). Even the great Taylor-Slater pairing of the mid-to-late '90s (who av'ged 51.14 in 78 inns) & the Boon & Marsh team of the late-'80s (who av'ged 46.77 in 41 inns) did not quite square upto Hayden-Langer. In fact, the latter were so good, that they were the all-time 6th best opening pair in the world including, to date. (with 50 inns as a min. cut-off.)

  • POSTED BY James on | May 7, 2016, 8:43 GMT

    Spot on. I remember a conversation I had with my Dad - very early in my still nascent cricket education - before the Aus-Zim series. Hayden had made a comment about how politics shouldn't get in the way of cricket and stop the series happening.

    My dad: Of course he wants the series to happen. Me: Why? My dad: So he can feast.

  • POSTED BY rob on | May 7, 2016, 0:04 GMT

    @ Jose: One of the things about that era that rarely gets mentioned is how how extremely unlucky you Indians were. Most unfortunate you were. I believe your team would have ruled the roost in almost any other era. Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Singh, Kumble and Sehwag is just such a wonderful lineup. It was a spectacular case of the right team at the wrong time. .. no wonder most of you guys hate us. We stopped you reaching the heights you probably deserved.

  • POSTED BY Ashok on | May 6, 2016, 14:45 GMT

    Growing up as I did in the 2000s, I must confess that I hated Hayden. Only now, with the benefit of maturity, hindsight and a far less competent generation of Australian batsmen, do I realise how bloody good he was. For sheer consistency and presence at the crease, he was peerless. This coming from an Indian supporter, with several painful memories of seeing my team taken to the cleaners by him!

  • POSTED BY Jose on | May 6, 2016, 9:10 GMT

    @ DUNGER.BOB ON | MAY 6, 2016, 7:04 GMT

    Yes. That all conquering Australian team, certainly, was (pl note, I used past tense, guardedly; and hope, I can use it in other tenses too) multi-layered and multi-dimensional, as you said.

    Batsman or bowler didn't matter. Fast bowlers or a spinner like Warnie didn't matter, as you indicated. In physicality too, it didn't matter whether a player is a 'giant' sized Haydos or a normal one like Steve Waugh. Whether a WK and a slip were in friendly terms or not also didn't matter.

    Yes, they all had that killer instinct and cussed refusal to surrender. Most importantly as a team.

    However, if any ONE player had captured, and conveyed, MOST of those dimensions, my bet is that, it was Haydos.

    Even though, personally, I had mixed feelings about him, when I look at him as a cricketer, I have no doubt in my mind about that.

  • POSTED BY rob on | May 6, 2016, 7:04 GMT

    @ Jose .. Hello old mate, great to see your post, and thank you btw. It's not often anything I say is called brilliant let me tell you. With Hayden, he was just a piece (albeit a big one) in a far more intricate machine than most people think imo. The prevailing memory of that team seems to be one of power and aggression (hell, even the spinner used to intimidate the hell out of 95% of his opponents) but there was far more to it than that. The backbone of that side was stoic refusal to the absolute bitter end, win or lose. A (dare I say it) almost Ghandi like resistance to defeat. That sort of infrastructure wouldn't ordinarily be a good match for a flamboyant player like Hayden, or Gilchrist, or Martyn or the captains twin brother for that matter. However, in that side, there was room for both attitudes. I'm not sure how they managed to do that, but the thing is they did. .. They were a multi-layered multi-dimensional killer cricket machine. Or maybe that's just my Aussie coming out.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | May 6, 2016, 2:59 GMT

    @ DUNGER.BOB ON | MAY 5, 2016, 21:00 GMT:

    Brilliantly put!

    If ONE player can so accurately and faithfully embody a WHOLE TEAM's ethos, in recent decades, that is Mathew Hayden; no doubt in my mind. That's the reality. As the old hackneyed phrase goes, love it, or hate it; you just can't ignore it.

  • POSTED BY stanle2933488 on | May 6, 2016, 0:02 GMT

    I have been keeping a particular statistic for years. I've divided test batsmen's total number of centuries made INTO the total matches appeared in, WHETHER OR NOT THEY ACTUALLY BATTED. I call the resulting figure the FREQUENCY OF CENTURIES MADE by the batsman or HOW OFTEN THE BATSMAN MADE A HUNDRED per test. Of course, NO ONE made a century more often than the great Sir Don Bradman. With the exception of Bradman, ONLY Matthew Hayden made a century more often than Sir Garfield Sobers! Not Lara, Tendulkar, Vivi Richards, Ponting, Kallis, Gavaskar, or Miandad. I believe this is a statistic that should be instituted and used as part of the battery of statistics to evaluate the quality of a test player. Statistically speaking, no one apparently matches up to the Don. Excepting him, all things considered and being equal, I am substantially certain that Garry Sobers is the best batsman the game has yet seen. Ask Ian Chappell, Boycott, E. Weekes, others. Stanley A George III, Bolans, Antigua

  • POSTED BY Peter on | May 5, 2016, 22:14 GMT

    Hayden epitomized everything there was to dislike about the great Aussie era. Brash, arrogant, domineering - but above all, brilliant. If a batsman is good enough to bully the opposition, he's earned the right to do it. Hayden inspired more fear into the opposition than any other Aussie batsman of the time, and he never showed any mercy.

  • POSTED BY Alex on | May 5, 2016, 21:08 GMT

    @_PK - there's such variety in the human race, it's on us to embrace our differences and respect each other for what we bring to the pageant of life, don't you think? I can see you clearly do from your use of the phrase 'pencil-neck pom'. Oh, how I rejoiced every time we got Hayden out cheaply in '05. However, I do remember him scoring a century in the final Oval Test, four games too late, and being congratulated by the England team - he appeared genuinely moved. What you have to understand is that from an English p/v, a bit of sour grapes is inevitable after a good 15 years of coming second best at cricket to Aus. To their credit, that Australian team were magnanimous in defeat, but then, after more than a decade of success behind them, they could afford to be.

  • POSTED BY Mashuq on | May 5, 2016, 13:25 GMT

    Very true, @__PK. I heard the ridicule of Pat Symcox and couldn't believe the way Haydos came back and proved what he could do at test level. I was one of them calling for the return of Slats but Haydos showed what those in Queensland had long thought. By the time Morkel had his number he had earned his reputation as one of the best ever. And his catching - talk about sour grapes.

  • POSTED BY Paul on | May 5, 2016, 10:45 GMT

    A guy is large, works hard to keep himself in good shape, enjoys a vigorous outdoor life, plays aggressively, has the temerity to be good at it and immediately every pencil-neck pom who was bullied as a child makes him the object of his psychotic revenge fantasies. I see where the problem lies here and it's not with Hayden.

  • POSTED BY Ali on | May 5, 2016, 9:32 GMT

    Never has a batsmen bullied bowlers like Hayden did. I just love the way he used to walk down the pitch to hit the fast bowlers wherever he wanted. For his Physic, recently I watched a program FRENEMIES on TV where Hayden and VVS Laxman were together. VVS revealed that when they used to field at closing positions to Hayden, Indians used to say "Bhim ko out kro yaar!" (please get the giant out).. loved it!

  • POSTED BY Utkarsh on | May 5, 2016, 8:26 GMT

    He had always been terrifying. Even as a spectator you feared for the bowler because of those giant strides down the wicket even before the ball was bowled. One incident , particularly, sticks out. Anil Kumble's last ball in Test Cricket could have been negotiated from the crease or at worst a prod down the wicket. Yet, he walks down the wicket, the test match already drawn with no result possible, and thrashes him to long on. Just to say, you might be done, but am not. It was as good a stamp of authority as there ever was.

  • POSTED BY Jose on | May 5, 2016, 6:16 GMT

    I love this lovingly hateful tribute a living legend of a monster batsman. I can't explain why; but Haydos always reminded me of Frankenstein's monster coming out to the middle with a cricket bat in hand, silently shouting, "Just give me way, or else..."

  • POSTED BY Simon on | May 5, 2016, 4:43 GMT

    As an adopted "QueeNZlander" (New Zealander who has moved to Queensland & embraced their new-found Queensland-ness!) I cheered for Hayden when he played for the Bulls and was dismayed by the way he was treated by the Australian selectors early on in his career. If given a decent run in the side he was always going to go on to great things A batting machine, no doubt. But as his international career progressed it became pretty obvious that the guy has enough tickets on himself to satisfy a Brisbane parking inspector's quota for a year... just another in the long line of Australian cricketers who were amazingly talented but incredibly dislikeable. These days "Matthew Hayden AM" can often be found extolling the virtues of his bully-boy best mate Alan Jones on Twitter. Gaz Martin would be impressed.

  • POSTED BY R on | May 5, 2016, 4:04 GMT

    All shades of grey. Based only on what I saw, always thought of Hayden as a flat-track bully in the first half of the noughties decade. But as time passed, there was grudging respect that he was pretty respect. Since he joined Chennai Super Kings, and I got to read a lot more of his interviews and general views, nothing but admiration - and gadzooks, affection - for Haydos. For all his Test exploits, his walking out with Parthiv, and then Vijay, @CSK will always be among my favorite memories.

    And this is not isolated to Hayden. Perception of the other candidates for the most-hated-ever, including Ponting, has changed over the years.

  • POSTED BY Venkatesh Venkatesh on | May 5, 2016, 2:27 GMT

    To be honest he looks champ anion batsman against mediocre bowlers that too on flat tracks like what we have some pitches in Australia and Indian sub continent the classic example for his 380 against on poor and hapless Zimbabwe but when bowlers on top he looks just an ordinary batsman that was underlined in ashes campaign in England in 2005 . If any captain asks him field other than slip he answers are negative and he runs away from that match you can have more from this Michel Clark former Australian captain . Fit be in commentary box for IPL matches when no body cares him in big bash matches or in England . Why religion raised in this article looks ridicules & Calling him companion looks funny and silly

  • POSTED BY Narayan on | May 5, 2016, 2:19 GMT

    Not to forget his Mongoose bat - he introduced it for the first time in IPL 2010, to telling effect.

  • POSTED BY hariharan on | May 5, 2016, 1:17 GMT

    Anthony, this makes for a terrific read! "Gaz" Martin would be feeling pretty good about himself if he reads this - haha!