Book review: Standing My Ground


Matthew Hayden's autobiography is a refreshing read when placed against the current flood of present player pieces that are updated and shaped by series rather than insight, writes Tim Ellis.

It is difficult not to have preconceptions about people based on a long-distance view. This is especially so with Matthew Hayden, the big brute of an opener and almighty sledger of an Australian side that battered all before them. As if aware of this hard sell, Hayden starts the book with a disarming (and slightly disturbing) fact: "I was born, raised and live my life as a Catholic."

This hitherto unknown sensitive side gets a good old public airing in the book and in all the right places. One of Hayden's pre-match rituals was to mark a line in the ground when Muslim umpire Aleem Dar was officiating. Dar would then draw a line across it, which made the sign of the cross. His wife Kellie has a chapter thrown in where she insists there are no raised voices in the Hayden household, just a cuddly bear of a man.

But how does the boy from Kingaroy stack up his aggressive on-field behaviour against such a moral codein family life? "In retirement, I confront the demons of introspection. Was I hypocrite? Maybe. But I am what I am: a man of contradictions." Hayden suggests that his role as Intimidator was an act and that the Australian team ethic was very much to look and smell the part so that the opposition would be worrying rather than concentrating on their own game. He was never actually charged with misconduct on the field. Can you trust a man who always covers his tracks?

Some of Hayden's most compelling insights are about the internal workings of the Australian unit. Seen as a cricket machine by other nations, individual personalities and flaws were there. Damien Martyn's inability to live in the goldfish bowl induced poor form and early retirement, while Adam Gilchrist's sensitivities to wicketkeeping criticism pushed him to the exit. Matthew Slater's personal demise during 2001 is something that ate up Hayden as it closed the door on one of his best mates. It also opened the path for Justin Langer to form a professional and personal bond that was almost impenetrable.
Hayden's early international career was more stop than start.

His affection for Steve Waugh, who knew what it felt like to be a fringe player, is as transparent as his coolness towards Mark Taylor. For a man who liked to be in control, Hayden had his fair share of knocks. However, Waugh knew that he "had a hunger that few others possessed." The 2001 series in India proved this when the Queensland player stacked up more than runs than in his previous 13 Tests. His assiduous practice of the sweep shot was key as was generally lightening up – "This time the message was clear; stay positive, stay happy."

Standing My Ground is a refreshing read when placed against the current flood of present player pieces that are updated and shaped by series rather than insight. Hayden has been true to his word and articulates well even if some editorial licence has been used here to soften his sometimes blunt views. His recount of an altercation with Geoff Boycott fails to mention the provocative "emptying grounds" slur on the Yorkshireman.

It may look like aggro sometimes, but his full frontal approach has been misrepresented to some extent. As Matthew Hoggard said to Hayden on the night that England toasted their 2005 Ashes win: "I thought you were a righteous, arrogant twat. But now I think you're a real good bloke."

<B>Tim Ellis</B>