The fedora hat emerges out of the Mahindra Thar first followed by his thickset, muscular, 6-foot plus frame. Chennai city is no stranger to Matthew Hayden, and yet it is quite the sight to see him emerge like he’s some sort of cross-border envoy dressed in slacks and a ‘Ujala’ white dhoti. The Aussie cricketing icon has more than 15,000 runs under his belt scored during an international cricketing career that spanned 15 years. And the erstwhile Chennai Super Kings opener is much loved in this cricket-crazy city, and “also Vice-versa”, clarifies Matthew.

Cricket icon Matthew Hayden on cars and off-roading

But cricket wasn’t going to be the topic of discussion over a cup of coffee. I was there to talk about cars, driving holidays and off-roading, a little-known passion of Matthew ‘Haydos’ Hayden.

“So, I’ve been driving a long time. I’m now 52, but always had a heart and eye for quality adventure and an outdoorsy way of life, which is what kind of a lifestyle it is in Australia. So, vehicles just kind of match the hatch and I’ve had great experiences with off-roaders.” When did he start getting behind the wheel? “I grew up in a very small town in Queensland Australia called Kingaroy, so the very first thing I drove was a tiny little greenfield Mower deck at eight and that scaled into vehicles, heavy-duty tractors, trucks etc.”

Enriching experience

Australia is vast continent and driving across the geography takes time and effort, says Matthew. “But spending time with family while driving can be an enriching experience. A road trip gives you an opportunity as a family to talk. Gives you an opportunity to sort of get off and have shared experiences. And that can be every four or five hours, like we did the other day in Dharamshala; stop at a Dhaba or get some street chai or call in and see someone. That’s the great advantage of slower paced travel”.

As someone who is constantly flying to the next cricket match Matthew is bored of air travel. He’d much rather drive “you fly from one exotic destination to the other, but you see nothing, whereas a road trip you actually see everything, you feel everything, and you get really intimately involved in what’s outside your car.”

He is a spokesperson and brand ambassador for Mahindra. So, like he would let go of a dot ball wide off the stumps, he ignores my question about the brand of pick-up trucks he owns. And instead says “I have a fleet of cars. I have a Mahindra XUV 700 and a Scorpio-N back in Australia and I have two other pickups. These are my vehicles that I’ve just flogged. Basically, they’re unbreakable cars. They’ve earned a special place not only in my heart, but in the hearts of regional Australians.”

Steady driver

Widely considered one of the best openers in test and IPL format cricket, Matthew Hayden would strike terror in the minds of bowlers. Is he as fearless behind the wheel? Does he like driving on the edge? “No, I’m not that person. I’m an opening batsman. And as Sunny Gavaskar would say we play the wicket. That’s how we operate. I’m a sure steady driver. Off-roading is probably one of my great passions. I live on a beautiful remote community called North Stradbroke Island. It has 50 kilometres of beach. So, my vehicle is very much tailor-made towards that as an environment. Car enthusiasts that like off-roading would know sand is one of the hardest mediums for vehicles to handle.”

Has Matthew tried driving in India? “I have driven in India. I’ve got one rule and that is you just look after what’s happening in front of you and then the rest is not your fault” (laughs). “But you know the awesome thing about Australia and India is that we drive on the same side of the road. Thank goodness for the Brits!”

Matthew has a packed calendar as an official commentator, but what is he doing during his spare time? “I love cooking and have written three cookbooks. I’ve also written a movie script which is currently being produced for worldwide release.” A self-confessed Indophile, Matthew says he can cook at least six Indian dishes restaurant-style. For this ex-IPL superstar, that sixer didn’t come off the middle of his famous mongoose bat!