Australian cricket legend Matthew Hayden reveals how he destroyed India in 2001, and why he’s now joined forces with an Indian car company to take on the Australian car market.
It’s 15 years since Matthew Hayden tore the heart out of Indian cricket and announced himself as the most dominating opening batsman of a generation.
Before the 2001 Indian tour the tall, athletic Queenslander had averaged just 24.36 from 13 Test matches.
Literally playing for his Test future, the innovative Hayden hammered 549 runs in the three test series against India, including his first double century – a brutal 203 off 320 balls at MA Chidambaram Stadium on March 18, 2001.
It was the most runs any Australian had scored against India in a three-Test series, but not enough to snatch the series from the home side.
Hayden, who grew up in country Kingaroy, has since made between 30 and 40 trips to India and has an enduring love affair with the country to the point where he is now the face of Indian automotive giant Mahindra in Australia.
“2001 had a lot of work behind it,’’ Hayden said.
“It had at least nine seasons of first-class cricket. Not just any sort of first class cricket but dominating the landscape of first class cricket whether that be state cricket or country cricket.
“It had an arsenal of ‘I can do it’, ‘I’m going to make a difference’, and ‘This is going to be my time’ to evolve as a cricketer and realise my potential. It also reeked of just growing up.
“It takes time to evolve and understand who you are as a person in that very busy cricket landscape.’’
Part of his evolution as a cricketer involved him mastering the sweep shot – something that allowed him to score runs and frustrate the Indian spinners by using his long reach to his advantage.
“My gut feeling was that I needed to play well in the sub-continent. In fact, my gut feeling was that Australia needed to play well on the sub-continent,’’ he said.
“And several years before even putting a baggy green on my head, I knew I was going to be the person to do that.
“One of the things that was obvious when I arrived in India was that I had no offensive play. I had defensive play against spin and that was going to hold me in some stead. But at the end of the day cricket is about scoring runs. It’s about seeing that turnover of the scoreboard.
“If I’m going to sit there in spin conditions and block for six hours, I’m not going to be very happy with the result. So I sought out very proactively individuals who could change and help develop a certain shot and sweeping was one of those shots.’’
Hayden enlisted the help for former Test captains Bob Simpson and Allan Border – both excellent players of spin – to help hone his technique and develop a strategy to negate India’s spinners.
“Those two guys planted the seed for me to go off and start to develop what that attacking play was like,’’ he said.
Since that series Hayden says that he has probably spent a year of his life travelling throughout India and falling in love with its complex, and engaging, culture.
“It’s a little bit like a sand fly bite,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to be much until you start scratching it. And then all of a sudden it leaps out of your skin and you can’t stop scratching it. The connection for me is on multiple levels really.
“Firstly they are cricket loving. And I love cricket naturally. You can’t get a better place to be adored almost, demi-God like, as a cricketer and personality. But then what that leads to, when you start to scratch the sand fly bite, is the linkage to food, their linkages to family and their linkages to how they altruistically look at themselves. You are talking about massive wealth in India, but at least 70 per cent of the population sits below the poverty line which means that the people making a lot of money have to look after those that don’t.”
Hayden has signed as the brand ambassador for Mahindra for three years.
“Mahindra is a very natural fit for me,” he said. “Firstly it is a product that is owned, operated and managed out of India. So there’s that great connection to that link between Australia and India.
“And then you look at my background, the agribusiness is a huge focus for Mahindra and this (he points to the Hayden family farm) has been my life and will always be a huge part of my life.”
Mahindra is a very natural fit for me – Matthew Hayden
Hayden credits his early cricket lessons from big brother Gary in the nets on the family farm as shaping his unorthodox batting technique.
“I learnt how to challenge a body of thinking,” he said. “I guess I had the freedom of growing up here in Kingaroy here. It wasn’t about any particular rank or order, it was about living what I thought was true to my own game.
“I did learn to challenge the normal system. I was taught and coached my whole life to go back and across into the line of the ball to cover off stump. I knew in my own heart that’s not what I was designed to do.
“I was tall. I wanted to come at the ball. I’d learned to hit the ball with the freedom of playing in the backyard which meant that my technique was basically turned up.
“If it wasn’t for Barry Richards I wonder where my career would be. He was a tall individual and he’d also seen first hand the devastation of someone like Graham Pollack who was also a huge individual.
“So he wasn’t of the theory that the Sachin Tendulkar’s, the Allan Border’s, the Sunil Gavaskar’s – all the short arses basically – could come and dominate the game because he himself dominated the game.
“He was an early role model to encourage me. This is the great thing about companies like Mahindra. They encourage you to be what you are, and who are as a person and personality. And therefore, once you grow that thought, it becomes the dominant thought.
“I don’t think you are ever successful without having a vision.
My vision was to change the landscape of cricket. Change the landscape of how opening batsmen were perceived. Like all change, you can look back at my career – which is a 20-year-career – and say didn’t he make a difference but at the time, as you know, everything was a fight.
“People said. You’re big. One. You go forward. Two. You’re a flat track bully. Three. All of that means nothing because I knew in my heart I wanted to do this.”
When asked about his favourite memory of India Hayden recalls the first morning of the 2011 tour.
“I ordered up a cup of tea in the morning. We were staying at this magnificent hotel called the Gateway of India – a Taj complex looking over The Gateway of India, which is this beautiful old monument that sits right down on the peninsula of Mumbai.
“I opened up the screens and I looked down and there were 50 to 60 people all wearing perfect white standing underneath my window.
“And they were laughing. I thought ‘what are they doing’. One person started laughing and then another person would start, and the next one would start laughing and it was – now I realise – a laughing meditation.
“It’s very very hard to be unhappy when you are laughing. It’s the truth. That was the start of their day. It was 5.30 in the morning, the sun was just creeping through the Taj complex and over the Gateway of India, I was hearing this laughing meditation and all the while in the background I knew that this was actually my time that I was going to arrive as a cricketer. I knew it in my heart. I knew it from the moment I set sights on India.”