Hayden's cricketing honeymoon with India

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:Matthew Hayden is back where he loves to be. If it were possible to carry cricket pitches in a kit-bag, the Australian opener would like to take Indian tracks to all parts of the world.

Hayden fell in love with Indian pitches at first sight, scoring as he pleased on his maiden trip to the country in 2001 with Steve Waugh's team. In three Tests, he gathered 549 runs with two centuries, averaging 109.80.

It was a career-reviving tour for Hayden, who had come as a virtual unknown but returned as a star in a strong batting line-up.

The left-hander had been struggling to cement his place in the team since making his Test debut against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1994. He had made just one century in 13 Tests before finding his feet in India.

Hayden was a revelation in the opening Test at Bombay, smashing an aggressive 119 under pressure to upstage even big names including Waugh twins Steve and Mark.

More important were the circumstances in which he made his runs.

Australia were struggling at 99-5 in reply to India's modest first-innings total of 176 before Hayden put his team in a winning position with a 197-run stand for the sixth wicket with Adam Gilchrist.

The tourists won the Test by 10 wickets, thanks to Hayden's ability to play breath-taking strokes even in testing conditions.

He had arrived on the big stage and continued to torment the Indian bowlers in the series with his awesome power and timing.

There appears to be no respite for the Indians this time also.

"It's great to be back. I really enjoy playing here," said Hayden.

"We've prepared for the tour, worked on facing spin bowling and batting on sub-continental pitches. The opportunity of playing before full crowds and the fervour for the game in India is unique."

Australia may have lost the last Test series in India, but Hayden won many hearts with his consistently big scoring. He was the lone batsman to tame the Indian spinners, including Harbhajan Singh who grabbed 32 wickets in three matches.

Hayden's best came in the third and final Test at Madras where he hammered a double-century.

The Australian grew from strength to strength with each Test series after the 2001 India tour, arresting the world's attention with a record 380 against Zimbabwe at Perth last year.

Though West Indies captain Brian Lara surpassed that record with a 400 against England at Antigua this year, Hayden is considered by many to be the better batsman because of his ability to score at a brisk pace.

Hayden has played a major role in Australia's successes, giving his team a solid start in almost all conditions to set the platform for a big total. No wonder Australia often manage to put pressure on their rivals by scoring more than 350 in a day.

He has forged an effective opening partnership with Justin Langer, another left-hander capable of playing a long innings. Through their consistency, the pair have ensured that getting the first Australian wicket will always be a big headache for the opposition.

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