Thursday, January 01, 2009

Matthew Hayden's real worth

Note: This assessment is unrelated to Hayden's present slump - especially as he is over 37 and on the decline.

I pick up the question raised by Christian Ryan in this cricinfo article and progress the discussion. I am more interested in the question on Hayden's dominance at his peak - has it depended in demise of great fast bowlers who could make balls move at rapid pace or rise from good length? The question, please note, is on his dominance and not his volume of runs. I have somehow agreed to that line of thinking suggested by the author in this article. Further arguments in favour of that line: In the midst of Hayden's pomp we had the 2005 Ashes, the only series this side of 2000 where the bowling by a team opposite Australia (the English) was so good that it would have been creditable for any batsman to last against bowlers over an entire session. This series saw him struggle to dominate and even score decent runs. Ricky Ponting struggled as well, but more like a batsman who would come good any time (as he did to save the Oval Test), which was a little different from Hayden's struggle.

Let us clarify that this discussion is not undertaken with the sole aim of crucify a modern great like Hayden when his time is coming to an end. He is not the only one to benefit from demise of bowlers. Many of the other batsman of his team and his generation have benefitted similarly. But the spotlight is more to him than others because he has dominated like none else except Sehwag and Gilly did.

Something in the batting of those other two, Gilly and Sehwag, suggest that they would have gone for the same dominance in any era they would have played by paying the requisite price: their averages would suffer from taking up onslaughts against greater bowlers. Gilly is a number seven and would naturally be more likely to be successful at it even against good bowling sides while Sehwag would have to take a large dent in his stats to retain his dominance. Is it true for Hayden as well? I think not. Hayden's batting is designed to tackle 'line and length fast medium pace and spin' rather than genuine 'get out of my way' quick bowling from tall bowling greats. I am not an expert at cricket and hence cannot it out but the more I look at Hayden's batting (commitmment to front foot combine with lack of swift rockback to backfoot, etc) the more I feel that it might well be both lesser average and lesser dominance for Matthew Hayden had he played 10-15 years earlier.

It is only an opinion, and has no facts and figures to back it up. No one actually knows how he would have coped with the great fast men, except that he turned failure to success only after they had gone. If we judge Hayden only by that stat then we risk ending up being unfair in rating him. Even Martin Crowe averaged abysmally in his 1st 14 or 15 Tests, and had he too bloomed post-fast-bowling-era in same fashion as Hayden we might not have known how good Martin actually was against all bowling. The point of this post, therefore, is: Martin's batting would still have told a story that Hayden's batting does not tell convincingly.

Now to the good part. Even if you believe he is a bully only to modern one-day-type bowlers, it is still complimentary of his cricket sense and his awareness of his own capabilities. It indicates Matthew Hayden is one smart batsman who spotted the declining merits of bowlers across the world earlier than all other batsmen in his era. Such smart batsmen may not have averaged above 50 against all comers but would always have added value to the team when picked.

No comments: