Ultimate XI Openers: Gavaskar a must but Smith deserves spot over Hayden

By May 13, 2020
Graem Smith (left) and Matthew Hayden Graem Smith (left) and Matthew Hayden

Like many ardent fans of the gentleman’s game I confess to being blown away by the awesome ferocity and near unrivalled destructiveness of Matthew Hayden, however, his opening pairing with Sunil Gavaskar at the expense of the grittier but slightly more consistent Graeme Smith is a delivery just outside off stump.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is very little hairs to split between the two.  A look at the most obvious metrics shows Smith has scored 9265 runs at an average of 48.25 and has a top score of 277, with Hayden scoring 8625 at an average of 50.73 and a remarkable 380 as his high score.  In terms of 100s, Smith compiled a respectable 27 with 38 half-centuries, while Hayden has scored 30 hundreds and 29 fifties.   

As previously stated, its remarkably close, but let’s begin this discussion by pointing to an often-overlooked consideration, Smith made his mark, while also shouldering the responsibility of being a captain. After taking the role at the tender age of 22 years old, Smith was often tasked with leading from the front with his bat and rarely failed to do so, despite the additional responsibility. For a great many players, the task of both has led to either one thing or the other suffering.

Smith was never technically as gifted as Hayden, but what he lacked in ability, he certainly made up for in sheer determination and toughness.  No one should ever forget his brutal double ton against England in 2008 or the way he battled away in poor light to score 154, a total that led the Proteas to a first series victory in England since their reinstatement. Smith also led South Africa in a chase of 418 in Australia where he scored a memorably aggressive ton and was the first captain to beat Australia, in Australia, in 16 years.

His mental fortitude was such that he averaged more away from home than within the confines of his country. The batsman averaged a healthy 54.99 away from home as opposed to 41.52 in South Africa.  By contrast, Hayden averaged 57.89 at home and 42.69 on his travels.

In making the selection we should also consider the argument that can be made for Smith being a marginally more consistent scorer. In revisiting the stats, we can recall that Hayden has scored 30 centuries compared to Smith’s 27, and his highest total of 380, compiled against Zimbabwe, is second only to Brian Lara’s world record 400. Smith’s best of 277 came against England in 2003. 

A closer look at the numbers, however, makes for interesting reading. 

Smith has scored a double hundred on five occasions compared to Hayden’s two.  In terms of daddy hundreds (scores of above 140), it is again Smith who leads the statistics with 11 compared to Hayden’s five, which shows that he got to bigger totals more often.

 

Kwesi Mugisa

Kwesi has been a sports journalist with more than 10-years’ experience in the field. First as a Sports Reporter with The Gleaner in the early 2000s before he made the almost natural transition to becoming an editor. Since then he has led the revamp of The Star’s sports offering, making it a more engaging and forward-thinking component of the most popular tabloid newspaper in the Caribbean.

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