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Blistering batsman who knew when to go

Nick Bryant | 02:42 UK time, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

So another Aussie legend decides to hang up his sweat-drenched Baggy Green, and the name of the brutish batsman Matthew Hayden can now be added to those of his fellow retirees Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

hayden211afp.jpgArguably the most successful batsman to open the innings for Australia (and from a statistical standpoint, definitely so), the Queenslander was one of the central reasons why Australia became such a dominant force in world cricket. Belligerent from the off, he scored runs at such a blistering, Blitzkreig-like rate that he could set the tone for a match in its opening session and single-handedly demolish and demoralise the opposition. Just as important, when he was firing he put so many runs on the board at such a rapid pace that it helped give Australia's bowlers more than enough time to claim the twenty wickets that it usually takes to win a test match. Hayden had the capacity to bully, and he was one of the reasons why Australia came to be so feared.

In one-day international cricket, Hayden set the Australian record, when he scored 181 not out in 166 balls against New Zealand in 2007. He also holds the record for the fastest century in World Cup history (66 balls) at the 2007 World Cup.

Seemingly struggling with an Achilles injury, which gets harder to shake off at the age of 37, he was a shadow of his former self during this summer's test series against New Zealand and South Africa. Against the Proteas, he averaged under 20 runs in each of his scratchy innings, and top-scored with just 39 in what turned out to be his final test innings. It was a sub-standard performance given that his test career average is 50.73. In retiring from the game, perhaps one consideration was preserving his 50-plus average.

At the start of the season, the Australian selectors' original plan was to play in Hayden in the forthcoming tour of South Africa, and then the Ashes. But last week he was dropped from the one-day side, and the selectors indicated that his place in the test team was by no means guaranteed. Then the chairman of the selectors, Andrew Hilditch, publicly blamed him, along with the other senior players, Michael Hussey and Brett Lee, for the defeat against South Africa. Clearly he wanted to end his career on his own terms rather than having the selectors do it for him. He said his moment of realisation came at the weekend when he was picking wild tomatoes with his young daughter. Like the other retiring greats, he says he just knew.

Because he decided to prolong his career and went out below his best, his departure is very different from those of his illustrious colleagues. When Warne, Langer, Gilchrist and McGrath announced their retirement, there was no question that Australian cricket had been weakened dramatically as a result. Conversely, given Hayden's recent form slump, his departure might ultimately strengthen the side.

There's certainly no shortage of replacements. For the Test side, the 20 year old New South Welshman Phillip Hughes is the most exciting of prospects, although Phil Jacques, who scored a century in his last outing for Australia, probably has first call. Then there's Chris Rogers, who has been averaging over 80 this season for Victoria. Michael "Mr Cricket" Hussey also made his name as an opener for Western Australia, should the selectors want to elevate him in the order.

In one-day and Twenty20 cricket, of course, there's the talk of the nation: David Warner, who announced himself in pyrotechnic fashion at the MCG on Sunday night, with a hurricane-like innings of 89 in just 43 balls. Justin Langer said it was like watching a highlights package, while Ricky Ponting likened him to the great Adam Gilchrist. His headline-grabbing feat was all the more remarkable since he made his debut for Australia without having ever played a first-class match.

Technically speaking, Australia remain the best test playing nation, but Hayden's departure is but another reminder of the loss of its super-power status and that cricket is no longer a unipolar world.

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