Wade likely to hold Test spot
Matthew Wade is expected to be installed as Australia's full-time Test wicketkeeper on Monday when the selectors name the squad for the first Test against South Africa, which starts at the Gabba on November 9. The choice between Wade and Brad Haddin was the major decision for John Inverarity's panel over the past few weeks, with the top six having been locked in since Australia's last Test six months ago and the wider bowling group remaining settled.
Ed Cowan will retain his position at the top of the order alongside David Warner, while the rest of the batting group - Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey - will also remain in place. The bowling unit will be led by Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus and the squad is expected to also feature James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, with Pat Cummins more likely to come into contention later in the series.
The choice between Haddin and Wade did not appear clear-cut when both men were given Cricket Australia contracts in June. But Wade is expected to win the battle and was told by Australia's physio Alex Kountouris to rest from Sunday's Ryobi Cup match at the MCG, after suffering a minor injury to his thumb during last week's Sheffield Shield match, although he will play this week's Shield game for Victoria.
"I got a hit on my thumb during the week in the Shield game and spoke to the medical staff and I made myself available but they told me to have a rest," Wade said on Fox Sports on Sunday. "I had a hit yesterday and everything felt fine, I just spoke to Alex Kountouris and they decided to give me a rest.
"I'm pretty relaxed. I've done everything that I can do in Shield cricket. Fingers crossed I get that opportunity ... Hadds is a terrific player and I've hopefully done enough to get that opportunity but we'll know tomorrow."
Wade is the incumbent gloveman having been given a chance in April in the West Indies, where he played all three Tests and finished the series with a Man-of-the-Match performance in Dominica, where his first-innings 106 set up Australia's series-winning victory. However, Wade only earned his baggy green after Haddin had flown home before the first Test in Barbados to be with his ill daughter Mia.
Until that point, Haddin had been Australia's incumbent Test keeper for four years, missing only five matches through injury in 2009 and 2010, when Graham Manou and Tim Paine filled in. But on virtually every criterion, Wade deserves to be given the gloves for the Gabba Test, the start of Australia's battle with South Africa for the No.1 Test ranking.
Haddin, 35, is nearing the end of his career while Wade, 24, has a long future ahead of him. Not since Ian Healy joined the side at 24 in 1988 have Australia had a full-time Test wicketkeeper so young, and Healy provided them with more than a decade of sturdiness behind the stumps. The time is right to give Wade an extended run in the side, while there remains an abundance of experience in the middle order. Wade and Warner will be the only two men aged under 30 in Australia's top seven.
But age is far from Wade's only advantage. Over the past five years with Victoria, he has earned a reputation as the kind of man any team would like to walk to the crease in a crisis. His Test century in Dominica came after he joined Michael Hussey with Australia wobbling at 5 for 157, and he impressed Inverarity with 89 for Victoria earlier this month, after he walked out onto the Gabba at 4 for 39.
"It shows what a very good batsman Matthew Wade is," Inverarity said of the innings. "That innings, in the context of that game was the match-winner. They [Queensland] bowled very well in helpful conditions and that 89 was a very significant batting performance."
Notably, Wade's record is best at the Gabba and Bellerive Oval - arguably the two toughest domestic pitches in Australia. His glovework is very good - it has improved enormously since he first appeared on the Sheffield Shield scene - and with 55 first-class matches and nearly 3000 runs to his name, lack of experience is not an issue.
Wade's case was strengthened because Haddin's past year has been far from his best. His 114 for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield last month, before he headed to South Africa for the Champions League Twenty20, was impressive, but against India last summer he was disappointing with bat and gloves. And his reckless slash outside off in Cape Town last November, when Australia were 5 for 18, is hard to forget.
That South African tour also provided Cummins with his first taste of Test cricket and he was Man of the Match on debut in Johannesburg. However, he has not played a first-class match since, last summer due to injury and this season because of his short-format duties with Australia and the Sydney Sixers. There is a chance he will be named in a 13-man squad for the Gabba, but he is unlikely to be a realistic Test option until he has some red-ball cricket behind him.
Australia's plans to rotate their young fast bowlers this summer will bring Cummins, 19, into contention later in the South African series. At the Gabba, Australia are likely to play Siddle and Hilfenhaus, with Pattinson, the leading wicket taker so far this Shield season, as the third fast man. Starc should only be considered if conditions are excessively favourable to the pace bowlers, while the injured Ryan Harris won't be available until the series against Sri Lanka.
Almost every year since the retirement of Shane Warne, there has been pre-match speculation that Australia will play an all-pace attack at the Gabba, which is always friendly to the seamers in Sheffield Shield matches. But Brisbane generally provides a better surface in Test cricket and last summer the offspinner Lyon took seven wickets in the Gabba Test, and he deserves to be part of the starting XI again.
The first Test will also provide Cowan with an opportunity to make the opening position his own after he missed out on a central contract this year. However, should Cowan stumble early in the South African series he will come under pressure, most likely from the resurgent Phillip Hughes, who has tightened up his technique and is still viewed by the selectors as a Test player of the future.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here