Matthew Hayden: 'That hiccup was because we didn't have killer instinct'

Opener tells Ashis Ray about the Ashes that got away and Australia's plans to wreak their revenge
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The Independent Online

Few in cricket have hit the ball as powerfully and none has scored as prolifically as an opening batsman for Australia. A hulk of a figure with a shaven head like an Olympic swimmer, 37-year-old Matthew Lawrence Hayden recently retired from international cricket to concentrate on the lucrative Indian Premier League. He is indisputably one of the greats of the modern game.

How do you reckon the Ashes will go this time?

I think it'll be closer than the Australian series (in 2006-07, which Australia won 5-0). But I still think Australia are the better side. You don't become the number one side without playing well both at home and abroad, so they'll be hard to beat, and they'll be keen as well because of the hurt from last time (in England, in 2005). So, I expect a good performance from Australia.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of England?

Their strengths are in their opening partners. I think they have a good combination in Alastair Cook and the skipper, Andrew Strauss. Kevin Pietersen has been a bit off the boil lately, but he's a big-game player and Australia will push his button, so to speak, unlike some of the other Test series they've had recently. James Anderson is bowling particularly well, Graeme Swann is a bit of a dark horse, can do a particularly good job. As a Test match wears on, he's a bit more of an attacking spinner than Ashley Giles as well.

I think their weakness is they are a tad vulnerable with the ball. You know the Stephen Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones combination of the last Ashes series in England along with Matthew Hoggard was very special, and they were just on song. And the challenge would be to see whether they can do that, get up to speed. Is Harmison going to play? Where is he at? Jones we haven't heard of since the 2005 Ashes series.

Australia also have great strengths. The bowling is starting to reach its potential. Mitchell Johnson is bowling beautifully. Dougie Bollinger we haven't seen yet, but he'll be able to swing the ball and at not a bad pace. Peter Siddle would be a stand-out in the series; he'll be able to get the movement out of the wicket, he'll be a handful in England. He's just starting to get his confidence, so our bowling line-up is starting to move well together.

It's been suggested that this could be the weakest two teams to play in an Ashes series. What do you think?

To me it's the competition that really counts. Yeah, you don't have a Warne, a Gilchrist or a Martyn, but you've got a rookie in Phillip Hughes who's exciting; his record so far has been outstanding. You've got Ricky Ponting, who may be the best player who's ever played. You've got a bowling attack that's simple and fast and aggressive. What more do you want? It will be weak if the competition is weak.

England have been building towards this Ashes series for a long time. They'll be hurting after Australia. And so I am not interested in making comments on the overall look of the side, because the game changes. It's good that it changes.

How much did 2005 hurt and how delightful was 5-0 thereafter?

Yup, it hurt a lot; it hurt because I think we went into the series with our eye off the ball. I think we went in with just a two per cent complacent attitude; the attention to detail just wasn't there, like it usually was with that magnificent side.

So I think the boys learned a lot from that, and we did dig deep when we came back home and went back out to play, we wanted to win 5-0, we wanted to win every game we played against England.

That hiccup in England was only because we just didn't have that killer instinct, that edge, we lost that attention to detail, which was disappointing but not insurmountable.

How would you compare the present team with the one that won 5-0?

Well, the huge hole in the armoury is that Australia have not produced a world-class spinner. To me, in Test-match cricket that is just key: no Shane Warne, not even a Tim May.

Matthew Hayden will be writing exclusively for 'The Independent' during the Ashes