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When Matthew Hayden’s sledging made Shoaib Akhtar look like ‘an absolute goose’

Hayden Akhtar
by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Matthew Hayden, speaking on The Grade Cricketer podcast about Australia’s infamous sledging habits, revealed how he loved confronting bowlers in the middle, recalling an instance when he got under the skin of an exasperated Shoaib Akhtar at Sharjah.

Hayden, speaking about the 2002 Test between Australia and Pakistan in the searing heat of Sharjah, recalled how he mentally disintegrated the speedster 18 years ago, adding insult to injury with a sublime 119 in Australia’s innings win.

“I was a lot more aggressive when I was batting,” Hayden said. “Someone like Akhtar for example, [I used to] call him ‘B-grade actor’ for a start, which used to get under his skin a bit.

“We were playing in Sharjah and it was 58 degrees out in the middle and Akhtar, when we walked out, said, ‘I’m going to kill you today’ in a whole lot more colourful language. And I said, ‘Mate, that’s terrific, you know I’m looking forward to that challenge’ in a lot more colourful language.

“’So here’s the thing, ‘Dumbo’ I said, ‘You’ve got 18 balls to do it. You’ve got three overs because you’re going to turn into a marshmallow that’s been left on the plane too long, and is going to be dripping down, and I’m going to be the one at the other end of those 18 balls, that’s going to be mopping it up’.”

Having exchanged pleasantries before he faced his first ball, Hayden decided to use the war of words as a point of leverage, taking advantage of the fact that the on-field umpire was former Indian off-spinner Srinivas Venkataraghavan.

“I now have a point of leverage. I go, ‘Right, how can I get Shoaib looking like an absolute goose, and how can I tell Venkat about this?’ Now India and Pakistan, there’s no love lost there, so I thought that’s my point [of leverage].

“So as Shoaib’s running into bowl and he’s cursing every profanity under the sun at me. I get to his bowling mark as I’m counting down his balls from one to 18. This is delivery No.9, for example. He gets to his delivery stride and I pull out. He runs at me going, ‘What the problem is?’

“I said, ‘I’ve got a problem’. I storm up to Venkat and say, ‘I give everything on the game, I deserve everything I get, but within the protocols and etiquette of the game, surely you can’t be running in and abusing someone’. Venkat goes [imitating], ‘Oh yes, you’re right!’

“I think the only way that Shoaib is going to get me out here is bowled — because Venkat’s definitely not going to give me LBW, and I’m not going to get caught behind because this thing [the pitch] was an absolute Bunsen burner. It wasn’t bouncing more than a centimetre.

“So all I had to do was just stand my ground and that was it. He (Akhtar) got through his 18 overs (ball) and he collapsed at the end of it. And of course, I take the opportunity to get my [fresh pair of] gloves I didn’t need, and just go up to Shoaib and say, ‘You want to go off, don’t you?’

“And he says no. And I say, ‘Mate, come on. There’s no heroes in Test cricket. David Boon once said that to me. It’s hot and I know you’re busted. Just go off, I promise I won’t think any worse of you’.

Hayden ended with the Player of the Match award, while Akhtar managed just a solitary wicket in his 14 overs, with Australia winning by an innings and 198 runs in less than two days. “Anyway, he called an old mate on, and he’s gone off and he didn’t participate in the rest of the Test match.”

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