Clayton Murzello: Wasn't Hayden a rookie in 1993?

Published: Nov 23, 2017, 06:01 IST | Clayton Murzello

Oz experts talking down England's Ashes chances is expected, but Matthew's don't-know-half-these-guys comment takes the cake

Matthew Hayden addresses the media ahead of the TNPL in Chennai last July
Matthew Hayden addresses the media ahead of the TNPL in Chennai last July 

It has been nine years since Matthew Hayden called it a day, but the burly left-hander is still stepping out of his crease and causing damage. "The Poms are a rabble. I look down half of the list and I honestly don't even know who half of these guys are," Hayden reportedly said earlier this week about Joe Root's Englishmen. Ben Stokes, who is in England, waiting for a possible clearance to land in Australia after his bar brawl incident, justifiably expressed surprise at Hayden for not knowing more about the England squad, since he is now a commentator.

Nathan Lyon's comments about hoping this series would end a few English careers too were slammed with gusto. What's the need for that sort of personal vendetta? Why be so mean-spirited? Is it too much to expect for a major cricket series to roll out without someone, who has played the game at the highest level, being rude to the opposition? One can understand media playing to the gallery. Or even a common cricket lover, like the Heathrow airport immigration officer who, on being handed out-of-form Mark Taylor's passport, exclaimed, "Oh... Mark Taylor, the Australian captain?"

Taylor nodded and the officer said, "Ah, but for how long?" (as mentioned in Taylor's autobiography, Time to Declare). That was some arrival for Taylor! Talking of arrivals, gone are the days when English and Australian touring teams were received warmly by former captains and all-time greats. At the docks, there were speeches made and friendships revived. Even Sir Donald Bradman used to stand at tarmacs and welcome teams during his administrative years with the Australian
Cricket Board.

We don't expect a Michael Clarke, who was Australia's captain during the last Ashes, to wait at the arrival lounge for an English tour party to arrive. We also don't expect a Ricky Ponting to be overly generous in his assessment of the English team, but for Ponting to say that England pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad are "on the steady decline. They're not going to get better from here as cricketers," borders on the audacious.

Curious to know what well-known cricketers wrote in the build-up to an England v Australia series, I looked up the oldest Ashes tour brochure in my collection, titled Cricketers from Australia — the official souvenir for the 1953 Ashes. As captain of the Marylebone Cricket Club (England were called MCC while on tour till 1976-77) that toured Australia in 1950-51, the late Freddie Brown was asked to write an introduction in this little green book.

Brown wrote: "I hope that they (Australia) will have an enjoyable tour and be able to take back many happy memories of England. That they will be a difficult side to beat is certain — what Australian XI isn't! — but that they will play this great game in the best traditions and be a most attractive side to watch, is also certain." Brown's introduction gave the gentleman's game a good name at a time when there was no formal Spirit of Cricket code to adhere to.

Nowadays, all that visiting teams get when they land in Australia is ridicule. Hayden's cross-batted stroke reminded me of the words, 'MCC – men or mice?' used on the cover of an Australian Cricket magazine in 1974. England had a rough build-up to the opening Test at the Gabba that year and the magazine's editor Phil Tresidder wrote, "The moment of truth has arrived for England, the Ashes holders. Are they men or mice?" Jack Fingleton, the doyen of player-turned-writers, penned a balanced piece on the English tourists in the same issue. He also had a message for those writers who were miserly in their praise for MCC captain Mike Denness: "I hope, if Denness proves a success here, and one wishes him well, his detractors are big enough to write, 'I was wrong and I apologise'." And Keith Stackpole, who played his last season of Test cricket earlier in the year, ended his pre-series analysis with a prediction: "A close, hard-fought series then, but Australia to get home by the narrowest of margins." Australia won 4-1.

There are no favourites for this current Ashes series. Shane Warne believes the Australian selectors are confused and probably rightly so, considering they recalled Tim Paine after seven years without him even being the regular glovesman for Tasmania. Warne believes Australia's poor selection will facilitate an England win, while Glenn McGrath has indicated that his team will win hands down. As for Hayden, he probably gave in to hyperbole by saying he does not know half the England squad. He may have forgotten that he too made an Ashes tour party with no Test experience in England in 1993 when he was written about in glowing terms because of his first two run-filled seasons in Sheffield Shield cricket. The so-called unknowns in the England squad would be itching to get Hayden to hear and see more of them in the coming months. It remains to be seen if he will regret his words.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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