Matthew Hayden's Ashes Summer: Australia are just too strong – but we said that in 2005...
The man at the heart of Australia's most successful side ever shares his unique insights and hard-hitting opinions
Wednesday 08 July 2009
Australia will win the Ashes of 2009. The series will be close and hard fought, it will ebb and flow and it may well be magnificent. It will, it should, go all the way to the Oval next month where we may be looking at one of the great Tests played there.
But the gut feeling is that Australia will be too strong.
The jury was out towards the end of my tenure. But they went to South Africa against very strong opponents and they had a very good series which has consolidated the prediction.
Australia honestly believe they are going to win the series but I also believe there's a question mark still there. That came through the apparent supremacy of the side that went to England last time and got beaten.
It makes a difference that Brett Lee will miss the first Test and possibly the second, of course it does. But he was not in South Africa either and Australia got over the line there. Coming so close to the match it does not help and if it leaves them short of Ashes experience in the bowling line-up Australia will reflect how they did on that tour.
There is a quirky part to it all: Cardiff. It is a venue that the Australians do not know. True, we were beaten there in 2005 by Bangladesh but they were completely different circumstances and a different ground.
I'm not prepared to make a call on this one because the first Test has always been at venues that both sides know. For instance, Australia have an excellent record at Lord's and it was no different last time when the opening Test was staged there. We had a very strong feeling we were going to win that Test and so it proved. Having not seen Cardiff it's difficult for me to predict.
The eve of a Test match is one of the most nerve-wracking times in an athlete's calendar year. The first ball is something that you dream about for six months leading up to it. And you can win or lose a series by its first few moments – certainly in my time Australia won more of those moments than we lost.
The Australian cricket team always talks about that first hour, how significant it is and our strategies – whether they be holding strategies or an opportunity to strike and make inroads. This side will be no different.
Whoever opens the batting knows they are about to face the most severe of examinations and no matter how much cricket you have played, no matter how many times you may have appeared in the Ashes, it does not get easier.
You can liken it to putting a flag up on enemy territory. It's basically two men breaching a hilltop, they've got a pick in their hand and they've got a flag and it bears the green and gold of Australia, say, and you're hoisting that flag up to show the other men; this is our claim.
That's what opening the batting is like. It's like being at the front line and trying to reach a territory within the front line and there is no going back. You just happen to be the first two soldiers in line and the rest advance knowing that position is owned exclusively by that one nationality. In that first hour you are constantly re-staking your ground.
It is a five-day campaign, make no bones about it.
This is pride, this is bragging rights, this is ego, this is territory. The objective is to reach that hilltop and put your flag up. In some Tests we have not only reached the hill but we've got deep into enemy territory and the campaign is over.
I've never been happy or comfortable with series being dominated. I've always wanted close series between England and Australia and I'm sure 80 per cent of the side want that.
On the eve of the series we all hope we'll smash England but I want to see competition and this should be some competition... the new-ball bowling of Mitchell Johnson, if not yet Lee; the persistence of Stuart Clark; the brilliant batting of Ricky Ponting offset by the obvious strides made by Jimmy Anderson; the return of the warrior Andrew Flintoff; the steel of the opening partnership between Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook; the almost eccentric commitment of Ravi Bopara. How's he going to go? He's just been brilliant.
Mitch has to have a special mention as a fellow Queenslander. He is an incredible athlete and he's terrifying to face in the nets to the point where I just wouldn't do it.
If he starts swinging the ball back into the the right-handers he's going to be a powerful asset for Australia.
Famously, the ball reversed last time in England so that is an option. And when it is doing so, on wickets that are traditionally quite slow, and the ball gets older, it could have a profound impact. England had perfect exponents of it last time, more or less all of the bowlers, and Anderson has used it well. So in the absence of Lee it makes Johnson's role more important. But I want to see these characters rise to the Ashes and to see if England can rise out of the Ashes.
England's chin music for Hughes may well backfire
Everyone asks about Phillip Hughes. He is, I guess, the bloke who replaced me in the Australian side. Phillip is a fearless negotiator and there is a tremendous power in that. When you feel like you've got nothing you are actually at your most powerful. I think he's like that. I don't think a boy born on a banana farm is going to be worried about hard work and bouncers and that sort of stuff.
Justin Langer used to say there's not one bloke on the planet that knows a bouncer is coming and is delighted about it but I think Phillip's got all the skills and I think if England persist with that line of attack there will come a time – because a barrage of short-pitched bowling uses up a lot of energy – when they could be in all sorts of trouble if they don't get him early.
I want to avoid singling players out but I think he will definitely have an influence on the series.
The Federer-Roddick final was such an inspiration
You turn into an absolute sports tragic when it comes to an Ashes summer in England. You are just so spoilt for choice. So much is happening and Wimbledon, as so often, was a perfect teaser for the Ashes.
It is possible to learn so much from those finalists, the magical Roger Federer and the intrepid Andy Roddick. What a contest it was.
In the past we have taken advantage of going along to SW19 – a few years ago we roared on Pat Rafter when he lost to Goran Ivanisevic. A Grand Slam is one of the truly significant events of world sport. You can't get much higher than that. Maybe the Ashes! But the way both men at Wimbledon played and responded on Sunday was magnificent.
Getwell, Brett - you're a helluva bloke
Brett Lee deserves great sympathy. Being injured is part of sport, an occupational hazardfor fast bowlers but Brett had worked so hard to get back for this series after injury earlierin the year and he certainly didn't deserve the rib injury which will force him to miss at least the opening match of the series.
I was really excited by the fact he appeared to have regained all his old vigour and skill. He's been bankrupt for close on a year. I just wanted to see him go well because he's a helluva nice bloke and he’s got 300 Test wickets. That's a lot of wickets.
Had injury not struck for him last year, he would have got a lot more wickets. And now this. He had looked magnificent, on the cusp of delivering the perfect storm in terms of fast bowling.
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