Matt was the youngest player to ever score a century for Queensland in first class cricket. He has played eleven test matches for Australia. We chat to Matt about cricket coaching, How to score runs and the influence his father has had on his cricket career.
You are competing in a test series in the UAE, let’s talk about preparation compared to a home test series, is it any different or do you like to prepare similarly?
I think it is a little bit different,the UAE is usually spin friendly conditions. We will be facing a bit more spin than pace in preparation. Another thing is the heat, it is supposed to be around 40 degrees when we are over there. So that should be a lot of fun trying to prepare for that and there will most likely be a few sauna sessions.
You were born in Sheffield, England. You then moved to Auckland, New Zealand. How did you end up playing cricket for Australia and when did you start playing?
I moved to Australia when I was 10. Just after the 2006/07 Ashes series that was in Australia. Australia won 5-0, we came and watched the Brisbane test and as English fans back then, it wasn’t great viewing for us. I started playing cricket in the backyard and probably a bit more formally when I was in New Zealand. When I came to Australia I started playing competitively in the local club cricket.
Did you have dreams to play for England when you were younger? or as soon as you came to Australia, you knew you wanted to represent Australia?
When I first moved to Australia it was always England, as I started to watch more cricket in Australia, I couldn’t watch the cricket in England because it was on to late. I started to want to play for Australia, a few more of my idols were Australian. Getting into the Queensland state cricket team, you are meeting and playing against so many Australian players and you really want to play in that baggy green.
Your father has had a big influence on your cricket career. How much of an impact has he had and do you think you would be where you are now without him?
Dad has had a massive impact on my cricket career. I might not have even played cricket if it wasn’t for him. He is just a guy that loves cricket, like most blokes in Australia and England. He just has a bit more of a coaching mindset, which was really good for my cricket career and growing up just enjoying playing cricket.
I never felt like he was coaching me, we were just playing a game whether that be in the back yard or the lounge room (which mum probably didn’t like to much).
Your dad is a professor in skill acquisition at QUT. Does that mean he comes up with crazy training drills?
It is very interesting. Some of them are just strange and some I never thought they were drills. The way he taught me how to defend in cricket, was if I got out I would go to bed. I was in the backyard and I was trying to hit everything for four. I hit the first ball and got out. Dad said “okay, let’s go to bed.” Eight year old me, didn’t understand and he gave me another chance. I started batting for a lot longer, after about an hour and a half, he just said “Let’s go, you won. Congrats.” I didn’t want to lose to him whether that is table tennis or cricket.
Has there been any situations where your dad given you feedback and created a little bit of tension or does he know how to time it right?
Yeah, he has learnt a lot about that. When I first started playing competitive cricket, I would get out and be sitting on the grass. I would look over and he would start pacing around the grounds coming towards me. I would know he was coming to tell me why I got out and what I needed to work on. He has definitely gotten a lot better, there were a few years there where I didn’t listen to him and not surprisingly, I didn’t get picked for many teams. I don’t know whether it was coincidence or not, but dad likes to tell me it was.
Now that you are playing professional cricket, you have other coaches and don’t get much coaching time with your dad, is he now in more of a mentoring role?
I won’t get to do much work with him cricket wise, but if I have any questions for him I just get on the phone to him. He gets access to all my footage from games. I recently gave him a call about how I went in India and the Australia A series. It is much easier for him to watch what I am doing, he has watched me my whole cricket career, so he can tell me if I have changed something and it is always nice to have that honest feedback.
Cricket can be a really technical game. When you trained with your father was it more technique focused or are you someone that likes to look at the bigger picture?
Generally, the bigger picture for me. I always want to look alright, it mainly goes off feel for me – how I am hitting the ball or how I am moving. Even sometimes I will have headphones on, listening to music when I am batting because when you can’t heard what the bat on ball sounds like so it is more about feel. If you have headphones in, you block out the sound of the bat on ball and I tend to really like because it gets me feeling how my body is actually going.
You made your BBL debut last year for the Brisbane heat. Is preparation the same for a T20 match compared to a 5 day test?
With fielding, you are going to get a lot more action in a shorter period of time. Instead of just standing in first slip all day you have actually got to move off for the ball and be able to take high balls. 20/20 cricket was under light, so we did a lot of work fielding high balls at night because it is very different to what you would get in a normal game during the day. With batting, my role in the middle order was to be busy and hit boundaries when I needed to. Obviously, I’m not the strongest bloke to hit sixes like what Lynny does every time. I know when I am playing well, it is when I am running hard between the wickets and trying to get a run a ball and if not a 2, 4 or a 6.
Other than your father, what coaches have had a big impact on you?
One of them was Darren Lehmann. He was the first coach when I went into the Australian side and he made me feel really comfortable going into that new environment. For a young guy, it made me feel comfortable and confident to be able to perform at that level. I’m really keen to work with Justin Langer, I haven’t had the chance to work with him yet, but all I have heard is good things. So I am really looking forward to working with him in the UAE.
You have been recently compared to another Queensland opener, Matthew Hayden. Is that a conscious decision you have made or adopt his style or is it just something that has happened?
It was just after Christmas. I played a shield game against Tasmania and James Hopes called me into his office the next day, just to have a chat and I am more than happy to do, because he is another important coach for me and he had two computers up. He had me the week before against Tasmania and Matt Hayden playing a shield game. He played both at the exact same time, it was really strange seeing it. I had never thought about it too much, there was quite a significant similarity between us. The one thing I noticed was that he had a lot better posture than I did. I used to lean over quite a bit and fall over and that is what coaches said was a technique flaw. I just noticed that his head was so much better in terms of his posture. So that afternoon, I went into the nets and just tried, loads of different things like standing up straighter, opening my feet up and just see what worked. It seemed to feel a lot better compared to what I was doing. We had shield game in Victoria that week.
I said to James “if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” and that week I got 170, so I think it worked. It just felt right, the next week I tried going to back to what I used to do and it just felt awful. So it wasn’t a technique change, it was that I realised I needed a better posture.
Have you had much time to talk with Matt or be mentored by him?
I was never thought to myself “I am going to bat like Matt Hayden”, other than everyone does in the backyard cricket when you’re a youngster. But he was doing a commentary stint in India when I went over for the test tour. So, I spoke to him a bit then and learnt a few things and obviously he was a good batter of spin so I tried to take some values from him. He came into our dressing room when I was playing for QLD and I learnt so much off him in just a 30 minute chat.
Your nickname in the Australian cricket team is turtle. How did that come about?
My first week in the Australian team as a 20 year old, I didn’t really say too much. As I started to get a bit more comfortable around the guys like Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc, they are really outgoing and genuine. I didn’t get to out there with Steve Smith and Dave Warner because they were captain and vice-captain and I didn’t want to say anything wrong around them. Nathan Lyon coined the term turtle, because I kept putting my head back in my shell when they came around. Hopefully, I am not like that too much anymore, I think some people think it was about my batting which was slow, but it was because I didn’t say much.
We have written an article recently, on finals and dealing with nerves. Cricket is a very unique game, being a batsman if you make one mistake, it is very rare you get a second chance. How do you approach that with so much pressure. Is it something you have a particular approach to in a mindset sense or is it more a of a go with the flow approach?
In the last season I probably had two very contrasting halves to the year. In the first half I was concentrating on being selected into the Australian side, the pressure was just trying to survive and not get out, because I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to drop me. That took away from the scoring runs part of the game, which is more important than surviving. Having the risk reward factor and not putting too much pressure on yourself is massive in cricket and the second half of the year I was just trying to enjoy my cricket because I wasn’t enjoying my cricket the first half of the year. I started scoring runs and started feeling relaxed when I was batting.
What is a piece of advice you would give to young cricketers, especially batsman, as they are coming into their pre-season at the moment. How can they best prepare for the season that is ahead of them?
I think not putting too much pressure on yourself. Obviously, you go out to bat and you want to score runs and you want to take wickets when you bowl, but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world and if you don’t get picked in a team it isn’t over. You talk about great Australian test cricketers and every single one of them has been dropped at some point in their careers. As a player you are going to go through patches, but it is about enjoying your cricket and enjoying the moment when you are going well.