On the final day of the Ashes 2013, Australia’s Matthew Wade sat in the dressing room from where he applauded senior wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for his record-breaking 29th catch of the series, with thoughts of his own form and place in the side lingering in his mind. In his bid to become a regular in the Australian side, Wade needs to carve a niche for himself, writes Prakash Govindasreenivasan.
The 25-year-old Matthew Scott Wade was the only unfortunate member of Australia’s 18-man squad in the recently concluded Ashes series who did not get game time. That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg for the youngster. With Brad Haddin’s resurgence after a host of personal life issues, Wade has a tough task ahead to keep the selectors’ attention on him.
It must be hard being a sportsman faced by trials and tribulations in personal life. The ability to strike a balance and set priorities often gives sleepless nights to some of the best in business. Haddin had to face something similar, along with fierce competition from Wade who was looking to usurp him as the first-choice stumper.
In the CB series in 2012, Wade took over from Haddin and started strongly with a half-century against India in the first one-dayer. Even before Haddin could plan his next move to ensure his Test spot was untouched, a personal issue cropped up and forced him out of the Test series against the West Indies. Haddin pulled out due his daughter Mia’s illness and returned home to be with his family. This was a highly emotional period for Haddin as he also saw the birth of his second child while Wade struck his maiden Test ton in the third and final Test to prove that he is more than just a back-up option to Haddin.
Ever since Adam Gilchrist retired in 2008, Australia have probably missed an attacking batsman in their Test line-up, who could come down the order and play counter-attacking cricket to make valuable additions to the scorecard. Wade’s 106 from 146 deliveries rekindled hopes of finding an aggressor of a similar mould. However, life was not going to be easy for Wade as he would learn.
Haddin emerged victorious in his personal strife and vowed to win his Test spot back. Having patiently waited for Gilchrist to hang up his boots to make his international debut at the age of 30, Haddin was not going to give up so easily. He had endured a tough time waiting in the wings and was not ready to let his spot go so easily. Given Australia’s appetite for picking in-form and fit players irrespective of their age, Haddin was probably confident of displacing young Wade soon.
Australia’s tour of India in 2013 was an opportunity for Wade to try and cement his place in the side as not just as a wicketkeeper but also a handy middle-order batsman. He did little to prove that and Australia restored Haddin as their number one choice for the Ashes.
If one considers the last four wicketkeepers for Australia — Ian Healy, Adam Gilchrist, Brad Haddin, Matthew Wade — an alternating pattern can be observed. Healy and Haddin can be put in the same bracket as two men with impressive temperament and grit to grind out knocks in tough situations. One would rather associate the word resourceful than flamboyant with this duo. Behind the stumps, they are extreme hard workers. While Healy went on to become one of Australia’s best, Haddin too has proved his worth by recently breaking a record for most number of catches by a wicketkeeper in a Test series.
Take into consideration Gilchrist and Wade, and you have two batsmen who can play their shots. Gilchrist had to bide his time till Healy was around but once he got an opportunity, he used it to perfection and went on to become arguably the most devastating wicketkeeper-batsman of all time. Wade, too, has the potential that Gilchrist did, but needs to treat each opportunity as his last.
Once Gilchrist replaced Healy, his commitment was unmatched. He was extremely agile behind the stumps and took on bowlers with much ease and the customary left-hander’s flair. He essayed two crucial and yet different roles in Tests and ODIs with great precision. To balance aggression and intent between opening the batting in one-dayers and playing in the lower middle-order in Tests is no easy task. Gilchrist carried it out successfully for as many as 16 years and was irreplaceable for as long as he played.
Another pattern with respect to Australian wicketkeepers has been about how much they value their spot in the side. There were numerous occasions when a young Gilchrist would be pulled out of a Sheffield Shield match and be summoned by the national side to cover the possibility of Healy missing out a Test due to a niggle. However, a strong-willed Healy would wake up on the match day as fit as a fiddle and take his place in the side.
While Healy protected his spot from Gilchrist for a long period before an injury kicked in and forced him out, the latter did the same when a young Haddin was knocking on the doors of the selectors for a chance to play at the international level. At his peak, Gilchrist’s spot in the side was unquestionable and the fact that he was never forced to miss a game due to injury further delayed Haddin’s debut. When he finally took over from Gilchrist, he would have known how to value his spot in the side.
Wade needs to pick that quality up from his predecessors and put a value to his spot, first in the limited-overs cricket. With Haddin making it no secret that he hopes to feature in the 2015 ICC World Cup, Wade’s first task would be to get some runs under his belt in Australia’s upcoming tour of India for ODIs. At a juncture where Australia’s batting reserves are thin, a good performance with the bat in the ODI series could also put Wade in the reckoning to play as a batsman in the return Ashes series.
It is tough times for Australian cricket and they will be expected to prefer Haddin’s experience over Wade’s promise as a future star in Tests. What Wade needs to realize is that he can still play a crucial role in the current Australian work-in-progress Test side by making valuable contributions with the bat and wait until Haddin decides to quit the game to take up full-time responsibilities behind the stumps.
The fact that Haddin will be preferred as the number one wicketkeeper could actually play to Wade’s advantage as he can, for the moment, concentrate entirely on one discipline of the game without feeling the pressure of having to keep wickets. He also needs the patience to survive at that level and the ability to carve an identity for himself in the Australian line-up. Whether he can do it over the course of the next few months will be interesting to watch.