Is Hayden a bully or a legend?

By Murray Staats

Matthew Hayden's retirement from international cricket last week has prompted mixed reaction from cricket followers, especially after the International Cricket Council (ICC) controversially named the former Australian opening batsman at No 10 in the top 20 best Test batsmen of all-time.

He bizarrely makes the list ahead of legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Allan Border and Steve Waugh (who a occupy the top four places with most Test runs).

While no-one can dispute the the merits of Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Ricky Ponting, Viv Richards, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Pollock, Everton Weekes, Denis Compton and Sunil Gavaskar's inclusion, the rationale behind Hayden, Kumar Sangakkara, Doug Walters, Neil Harvey and Michael Hussey's selection should raise more than a few eyebrows.

Especially when you consider they were rated more highly than run-scoring machines like Rahul Dravid, Graham Gooch, Javed Miandad, Inzamam ul-Haq, Greg Chappell, Walter Hammond and Gordon Greenidge, and, if it were not for Barry Richards' frustratingly short Test career (just four matches), I've no doubt that the former Natal batsman would be in contention for a place on that list.

Hayden's impact on international cricket and his contribution to Waugh and Ponting's all-conquering Australian sides of the 90s and 2000s should not be underestimated.

Hayden's 8 625 Test runs is 12th on the all-time list and his batting average of just over 50 sneaks past the benchmark by which the great batsmen are measured. Hayden has the second highest Test score of all time of 380, albeit against a weak Zimbabwean side and was the first to score more than 1 000 runs in a calendar year on five occasions.

Hayden was part of two World Cup winning sides in 2003 and 2007, he scored 10 One Day International centuries and finished with a worthy ODI average of 43.

However, when the burly Queenslander announced his retirement after the third Test against South Africa in Sydney two weeks ago, the tributes have not all been complimentary.

His most glowing tributes came from his captains, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh.

"Look through the history books of the game and try and see if there has ever been a better opening batsman in the world, let alone Australia," was Ponting's well-placed opinion and Waugh said: "He was so good it was sometimes embarrassing to bat at the other end."

On the flip side Ian Chappell perpetuates the belief that Hayden was a flat-track bully and points out that Hayden struggled against the top bowlers of the 90s when Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers and Darren Gough were at their peak.

Former team-mate Jason Gillespie, who believed intimidation was a large part of Hayden's make-up said: "He intimidated opposition fast bowlers; they might deny it, but he did. I'm sure a few of them thought about wearing a helmet when they were bowling to him. I did."

Hayden's barrage of expletives upon Graeme Smith's arrival at the crease on debut at Newlands in 2002 has been well-documented, and according to reports went something along the lines of: "Who the f... are you? You're not good enough to be here."

Hayden averaged a paltry 19 against South Africa in the three Tests this summer, while Smith was a victorious captain with an average of 65.

I'll bet he knows who the f... Smith is now.

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