Aggressive Australian batsman Matthew Hayden does not find a fitter cricketer than his countryman Craig 'Billy' McDermott and rates West Indian fast bowler Curtly Ambrose as the ultimate fast-bowling package.
In his autobiography Standing My Ground, Hayden talks about the forces that shaped his journey from fringe international to one of the most attacking batsman in the game. He also writes about cricketers who are superstitious, umpires he adored, the media, teammates and opponents among others.
"I still rate Craig 'Billy' McDermott as the fittest player ever to have played the game. He was way ahead of his time in that regard, and his efforts were all the more impressive because his contemporaries in Australia's bowling unit – Tim May and Merv Hughes – were never going to get a podium finish in the local triathlon," Hayden, who is Australia's record-holder for highest score in Tests and One Day Internationals, writes in the book, published by HarperCollins.
"McDermott challenged the contemporary belief that fitness was a side issue in cricket rather than a central ingredient for success. Despite his fitness, he could at times be troubled by confidence issues, which was a surprise, given his immense talent for bowling – pace, swing, height, bounce and a great action."
Hayden also says that McDermott was "one of the first cricketers to embrace the corporate world and seek private sponsorships, which he generally flaunted in the dressing- room".
For the burly cricketer, Ambrose was the best opposition bowler he ever faced.
"You were always under pressure with him…Every ball seemed a threat. I never felt comfortable on the front foot against him and I couldn't get back far enough. He was the ultimate fast-bowling package," he says.
He has high words for Pakistani bowler Wasim Akram also.
"The only bowler who came anywhere near Ambrose was the great Pakistani bowler Wasim Akram, whom I faced only in one- day cricket, and towards the end of his illustrious career. He was amazing – almost too good for his open good.
His swing bowling was so technically pristine that the seam was always in perfect position – so clear, in fact, that you could get a look at it and see what he was trying to do with the ball."
Hayden says facing Akram was brilliant, because "I knew every part of my game had to be in the groove to cope with his genius".
Indian umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan also comes for praise from Hayden.
"He gave me invaluable tips about batting in India during the 1998 spin clinic I'd attended with him in Chennai.
I had great respect for the man and his opinions… I think he took pleasure in seeing me blossom in later years, in part due to the wisdom he passed on."
On superstitions, Hayden writes that men who looked and played as if they're bullet-proof have the quirkiest fears.
About himself, he says he was not really superstitious though he was a man of routine and tried his best to stock to that routine.
Of them, countryman Jason Gillespie had triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).
He would never stay on the 13th floor of a hotel, skip the 13th step and never sit on the 13th row of a plane.
"Dizzy (Gillespie) was all poise, calculation and control."
Only his teammates knew he held it together with the help of a host of superstitions.
But the cricketer who topped Hayden's list is South African batsman Neil McKenzie.
"Perhaps the most superstitious cricketer of my era was McKenzie, who had a long list of quirks that included taping his bats to the ceiling of the dressing room, making sure all the toilet seats in the dressing room were down when he batted and making sure he never stepped on the crease line when he batted.
The last thing he always did before facing up was turn and look over his left shoulder behind square leg," Hayden writes.
Ambrose Best Oppn Bowler, McDermott Fittest: Hayden
Zafri Mudasser Nofil/New Delhi
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