Matthew Hayden is a cricket legend – opening batsman for Australia, he competed in 568 matches, clocked up 39,669 runs, a high score of 1014 and an impressive 119 centuries. Since retiring, the philanthropic businessman, motivational speaker and charity ambassador has become busier, and he’s only just getting started.
With cricket batting pads covering his entire body, a three-year-old Matthew Hayden faced off against his eight-year-old brother Gary and he was bowled over by a love of the “great game”.
“He was my mentor,” Matthew says fondly, “he fell into cricket and so did I as a result.” Matthew says his backyard had a full cricket wicket which was completely home-made, complete with cement roller and wire-netting surrounds, it took pride of place on their farm and was where many competitive innings took place after school.
“Our house block was 10 acres, so Dad got the grader out and flattened out one part of it, and every afternoon my brother and I would roll it, mow it, prepare it and play on it until dark.” Matthew says when cricket was taken off the the ABC and aired on Channel Nine’s World Series Cricket, they didn’t get to see a lot of the cricket in his rural area, as the ABC predominantly covered a lot of the regional communities. “So I really fell in love with the game of cricket listening to my radio on one of dad’s tractors, listening to ABC Grandstand, that was how I was introduced to the game,” he says.
Born and raised in Kingaroy, Matthew Hayden had a “really great childhood” living on his third generation family estate. His mum was a speech and drama teacher and dad was a primary producer, primarily growing peanuts. “As a kid it was very much about the family, I loved the land,” he says.
“I had a great childhood, in the bush, we had our own cricket wicket, we hunted, we fished, I’d help out willingly with the cattle, chipping peanuts or working any of the tractors – I was driving when I was eight.”
But when Matthew turned 16, in 1986, he was uprooted from the family farm and finished the last two years of his senior schooling at Marist College in Ashgrove.
“I went to Ashgrove kicking and screaming, not only due the fear of going to boarding school, but the fact I loved the country and the land so much,” he says. And it was that profound love and respect of the land which cemented Matthew’s place in the community – the game of cricket being their shared passion. “I loved playing with my mates, I was a very social little boy and enjoyed mixing it with the men, because it was country cricket I was a 10-year-old playing with adults,” he says. “Our common interest was the land so it was easy to take a break from school, take a break from the properties and all come together, that was what I really loved about cricket.”
As a kid it was very much about the family, I loved the land”
So did he have aspirations to play for Australia at such a young age?
“I hear Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh, all the guys I played with, they would all answer yes to that question, but my aspirations were to be a farmer,” he says modestly. But the wheels were already in motion for this talented sportsman, having made regional representative sides for South Burnett and Wide Bay, then he went on to play for Queensland. “When I went to Ashgrove, it’s right near Valley District Cricket Club, I was pretty focused by that stage on playing great cricket and did so during Years 11 and 12.”
By the time Matthew hit his first year of uni at QUT, he was playing first grade with Brisbane District Cricket and really hit his stride, going on to represent Queensland within three years. Matthew was studying a Bachelor of Business, with a sub major in Public Admin, “my political aspirations were not high, I don’t even know why I chose that!” he says with a wicked laugh. But he didn’t finish, Matthew missed his final year of tutorials because they coincided with State training. While it was a tough decision, he made the right choice, by that time he was playing for Australia.
Matthew says representing his country is a “complete experience”, evoking a range of emotions – elation, rejection, dejection, an incredible sense of achievement, hard work and sacrifice. “Some of the things that really cut deep are missing family commitments and time away from key times in your life,” he says. “But there’s a great spectrum of opportunity that exists within a professional sporting landscape, all of which are very enriching experiences I’ve got to say, there is not one element I’d ever replace and there are so many highlights throughout a 20-year career.”
Matthew played for Australia from 1993 to 2013 and says there were countless highlights, but the moments he remembered most fondly were the little things.
“One of my highlights was the last test match in England at the Oval in 2005,” he says. “I was going through a rough trot and to open the door and see my wife and son there, who had come to watch what was being reported as my last test match, was a very personal highlight. I went on and got a 100 in that game, but it’s those little things that are life changing experiences that in one moment become a highlight.”
If you were to ask what I miss about cricket, I would say sitting in the dressing room talking complete BOLLOCKS.”
Since retiring from the game, Matthew has immersed himself in an array of business ventures and opportunities to give back to the community, while becoming a popular guest speaker on the circuit. “There are so many parallels, between a career like cricket and life generally, enjoyment is one of the biggest things, it’s a great barometer as to whether you’ve got the potential to be successful in something and if you’re not enjoying it then why do it?” he says frankly. And Matthew is clearly taking his own advice, starting a radio program with Mark Waugh and Graeme Swann, Willow Talk, which is devoted to cricket.
“If you were to ask what I miss about cricket, I would say sitting in the dressing room talking complete bollocks and that’s what we’ve generated in this show concept, it’s great to have your mates and have this wide ranging and roaming conversation about this game we all love and Australia really loves,” he says.
On Australia Day in 2010, Matthew was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to cricket and the community through charitable organisations. One of Matthew’s biggest projects has been with the community on the Tiwi Islands, off the Northern Territory, where they built the biggest Indigenous garden in Australia. “What I really love about food is the people, the producers, the mateship, the togetherness and of course the tastes that come with it,” he says. “Some of my earliest memories are walking home from school to see my grandmother, who lived about three blocks away. The first thing we would do is sit down and drink a massive malted milkshake. After that we’d go down and tend to her garden, she had four little vegetable plots and some chooks and we would start preparing for the evening meal.
“Or if I’d stay overnight, I’d have my Pop and we’d grind the wheat to make the porridge, he had made this little electric grinder – like my dad, he was a very hands-on individual.”
Matthew says he drew on his broad understanding of produce to create his first television show, Home Ground, which told the story of paddock to plate, showcasing both the farmers and the chefs. “At home we’ve got a pizza oven beside my herb garden, so the herbs go straight onto the pizza or onto a lamb roast with lemons that we grow fresh – that experience is what food is about for me,” he says. Matthew and his wife Kellie have three kids, Grace, Joshua and Tommy, who share his addiction to sport and good food, and since retiring from cricket, Matthew has crafted his life’s work around his loving family.
“When I was playing cricket I would be away 11 months of the year, now there’s a greater emphasis on balance. I’m not sure anyone who’s 49 can boast of having it absolutely perfect, but I know that I’m engaged in what I do, I find it fun, I know it’s involving my family which is wonderful. I work from home, broadcast from home, it’s a matter of managing times and diaries and getting it right and also giving back to a lot of different people across Australia, which makes me feel unreal. “I have a great life!”