Matthew Hayden's Ashes Summer: England look deflated but Harmison can help them bounce back
The man at the heart of Australia's most successful side ever shares his unique insights and hard-hitting opinions
Thursday 16 July 2009
We wanted to taste the first game and it tastes good. If that is the entrée to the Ashes I just can't wait for the main course. We have gone through the canapés and been served up a bit of champagne.
What a perfect way to begin. And now to Lord's, where I believe Australia will win. England will have taken a lot from the opening Test in Cardiff, but I reckon that Australia will have taken more.
Most of the great moments, don't forget, were inspired by Australia, but no praise should be too high for Paul Collingwood on the last day. Test-match cricket is all about knowing your limitations. The Australian batting performance was like that, it knew when to attack and when to pull back, it knows how to wear down an opposition bowling line-up, but Collingwood produced a belter of a second innings. And he did what he did for his side.
I was looking at the body language of both England and Australia in the game, searching for evidence, and England's was interesting. They were very jovial, quite cocky and particularly kind of focused because it was all going their way after their first innings.
It was like "We've got 'em, you get 'em!" and that's great – it's what you expect of a side that have 400 on the board. But then as the game went by, as every Australian run mounted, the body language completely changed. They looked like the game was going away from them.
If I was in England's shoes now I would pick Steve Harmison. I know that every Australian within touching distance of a cricket bat is saying that – this is a guy who is in form, who is explosive and who has won an Ashes series. To face him is to know you are in a Test match. That is for England to decide.
Australia looked the real deal for most of the first Test. Ricky Ponting ended it being criticised for all the wrong reasons. I think the way that Ricky handled all aspects of the last stages of play in Cardiff was super and indicative of a really good leader. We can buy into all the guff about slowing down over rates and running out with this and running out with that, and, while there was a degree of frustration, to me it's about escaping. Ponting handled the press very impressively.
That's what Australia could learn from 2005 as well. The group then tended to look very outward and see what they were doing and what everybody else was doing, rather than internalising. I say that in reference to the sort of things like Ricky getting run out at Trent Bridge and reacting to that kind of scenario. That won't be happening this time.
But should England have done what they did with their 12th man and physiotherapist? There is a dramatic difference between the spirit of the game and the laws of the game. There have been many people in the history of cricket, in every aspect of life, who have tended to observe what is the letter of the law, as opposed to what in essence is really right about playing. There is a context to this and it's about being a little boy and playing the game. You simply play every ball and you just want to keep playing until your mum calls dinner time and then you go inside. You play until you can play no more. When the dinner bell rings and you come inside you're still arguing the toss because you still want to be playing. So what has changed? Plenty.
It's not for me to say that England were wrong, or to even to comment on that. I just know that within my heart you want to be challenging yourself. That's what Test cricket is, and that is what backyard cricket is. When Gary Hayden was playing Matthew Hayden at the Sheep Station Oval, you just wanted to play every ball, and that's the most important thing in Test-match cricket. To deny that is to deny yourself.
Collingwood deserves ultimate respect
England's second innings was about resolve. That is why Paul Collingwood MBE was so special. It doesn't matter what ability you have been given, you're in an Ashes Test match and you're at war with another country and you stand up to be counted. The nation can really give him due credit and that was to rescue a certain defeat for England.
He was so mentally tough. We opening batsmen will often groan about how we have the hardest conditions with the new ball, the freshest wickets; we like to pump our own tyres up. The reality is this: can there be any greater scenario than when the nation is relying on you to be the last frontier? He was fantastic.
Like KP, I've left and lost my wicket
I felt Kevin Pietersen's pain. I'm not talking about his much-criticised shot in the first innings when he was out sweeping – that's up to you Poms – but about his second-innings dismissal. He left a ball which then bowled him. It's the pressure of the scoreboard, the pressure of expectation – and all that counts.
It has happened to us all, I reckon. Curtly Ambrose knocked my off stump out of the ground once when I shouldered arms and it took me about three years to recover. There was another time when Shoaib Akhtar came round the wicket in Perth and this ball came back miles and caned off stump. It's not the biggest deal in the world, but everything's in context. You think many things to yourself going back to the pavilion, but why you didn't try to hit the ball is chief among them.
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