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Hugely respected, much admired... but loved?

Tom Fordyce | 11:56 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

It should be a no-brainer. Matty Hayden was a great Test batsman, his numbers over his 15-year career putting him shoulder to muscular shoulder with the all-time elite.

He scored more Test runs than any other specialist Aussie opener (8,625), stands sixth in the list of top Test century scorers (above Bradman, Border and Sobers) and retired with an average of 50.73 (higher than Viv Richards, Denis Compton and Neil Harvey).

Yet while those other six men warmed the hearts of cricket fans whatever their national allegiance, Hayden seemed to leave everyone but Australians cold.

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It shouldn't make sense. Those runs were scored fast, in an unapologetically aggressive manner. He overcame significant hurdles to get to the top - not least the three-year hiatus to his Test career in the late 1990s, or being told as a youngster by Rod Marsh that he wasn't technically gifted enough to play first-class cricket.

Off the pitch he was well-rounded enough to publish his own cookbook.

There should have been enough there to endear him to the rest of the world - and yet somehow he never quite managed it.

Maybe it was the batting style. Belligerent it may have been, and hugely effective, but silky-smooth and subtle it was not. In an era when the leading left-handers were Brian Lara and Sourav Ganguly, a beefcake who battered most of his runs through the 'V' was never going to give the purists as much pleasure.

When Lara took back his mark of highest Test score in a single innings, there was a sense that a certain sporting justice had been done, that a display like that from Lara against England was a more fitting record than a score plundered against a feeble Zimbabwe.

Maybe it was Hayden's character.

"At the end of the day, two alpha dogs are never going to sit in a cage and not look at each other," he once said. "It is what it is. The way I see my cricket, if you're the other alpha dog, you better not blink."

To some, that's exactly the attitude a Test opener should have. Then again, one man's self-belief is another man's smug superiority.

What some would see as a feisty combativeness is to others an unpleasant bellicosity.

"I don't mean to be arrogant, but if we 're executing our skills there's not a side that can get close to us," he said famously before the 2005 Ashes, ensuring England fans would celebrate his dismal run of scores until the final Test (12, 34, 1, 31, 34, 36, 7, 26) with immense glee.

Then there were the spats with Harbhajan Singh. As a cricketer against India, Hayden was sometimes supreme - those 549 runs there in 2001 remain an Australian record for a three-match series - but as a man he could be small-minded.

Would Bradman, Border or Harvey call an opposition player, particularly one who had dismissed him more times than any other bowler, "an obnoxious little weed" on national radio?

To some, Hayden epitomised the less edifying aspects of Ricky Ponting's team: a certain chippiness and lack of humility underlying the stellar successes on the pitch.

As a result, his dismissal was cheered by opposition fans more than any other Aussie batsman, save Ponting himself.

It says something that many England fans were hoping he would hang on long enough to be picked for this summer's Ashes series, just so they could see him worked over by Andrew Flintoff again.

All of this sounds mealy-mouthed on the day that he retired from international cricket. Ponting and Justin Langer have described him as Australia's greatest-ever opener, Glenn McGrath as "a legend".

All three of them are right. At the same time, so are those who flag up the caveats.

Shane Warne was far more of a rogue, but the rest of the world saw him as a lovable one. Hayden, for whatever reason, would never generate the same affection.

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