Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart December 12, 2012

Wade's tenuous grip on gloves


Australia's wicketkeeper Matthew Wade is acutely aware of his tenuous place at the top of what is by far the national team's most competitive market. At a time when high quality batsmen and spin bowlers are in short supply and fast bowlers are almost as likely to drop with injury as they are to flourish, Australia has seldom had a more bounteous supply of glovemen.

While Phillip Hughes was recalled after his first Sheffield Shield century of the summer, Wade knows that behind him in the queue lurks a small army of stumpers. His predecessor Brad Haddin, keen on one more Ashes tour, is swinging from the hip for New South Wales with a reconfigured batting grip. Tim Paine has battled back manfully from a serious finger fracture and took the Australia A gloves this year. Chris Hartley maintains a never less than fastidious standard behind the stumps for Queensland and has grown his batting notably.

And this is all without mentioning the likes of Peter Nevill, Tom Triffitt and Peter Handscomb, all considered worthy of eventual national call-ups. Wade regularly runs his eyes across the competition, the resurgent Haddin in particular, and has resolved to play each match in the manner Ricky Ponting approached the Perth Test - as his last.

"Every time you walk out onto the ground for Australia you've got to live that moment. Every time could be your last," Wade said. "So in that regard, I do live the moment I suppose for Australia. I keep an eye on cricket games and, yeah, Hadds is playing really nicely and he was always going to. A world-class player. Anyone who's played 60 Tests and goes back and plays first-class and domestic cricket is always going to do very well.

"There's so many good keepers in Australia. It's not just one or two people. In a matter of months there can be keepers come out of the woodwork and play good cricket so if I'm worried too much about them, then my performance out here is going to be affected. It's just about preparing well and giving myself the best chance."

Wade was unsatisfied with his returns against South Africa, both as a wicketkeeper and a batsman. His best, exemplified by a reflex take to dismiss Robin Peterson off Nathan Lyon and then a rapid 68 in the first innings of the Perth Test, was of a glittering standard. His worst, a missed stumping of Graeme Smith in Adelaide and an agitated slog at Peterson to be dismissed in the second innings at the WACA ground, was not.

There is less concern from Wade when another missed chance is mentioned, Faf du Plessis edging Ben Hilfenhaus in and out of his gloves on the tense final day in Adelaide, for it was the result of his decision to move up to the stumps in an effort to interrupt du Plessis' otherwise serene batting rhythm. If Wade set the trap but could not bring it to completion, he consoles himself with the fact that an opportunity had been created.

"It plays on your mind definitely after the game, but I was lucky that we had two days off and were starting another Test match," Wade said. "Everyone was really supportive. I went up there to make something happen, the game was drifting on a little bit, something did happen and it just didn't stick that day. Two days later I got a catch off Nathan Lyon and it stuck. That's unfortunately the game I play, one will stick one day and some will fall out others.

"Up to the stumps is where you can really challenge yourself and change a game. You can make or break a game up to the stumps, as simple as that. That when the pressure's on and I think every keeper likes getting up there and having a real crack, whether it's a quick or a spinner. It's going to be interesting, hopefully I get to India and I can keep in similar conditions in the West Indies where it spins a lot more, and challenge myself a little bit more."

Wade's enthusiasm for the visit to India is a rare sentiment, for the subcontinent provides a more sustained test of a wicketkeeper's ability than almost anywhere else on the globe. However Wade has reasoned from his West Indies experiences that lower bounce suits his diminutive stature, making him more comfortable against the fizzing, turning ball in Delhi than he is when keeping up to the bouncing variety in Brisbane or Perth.

"In the West Indies I enjoyed keeping up to the stumps," Wade said. "Australia's a different kettle of fish when you keep up, it's not as much side spin, it's more bounce, which is probably the hardest thing for me to keep to because of my height, the bounce in the wickets can get up around my chest so that's probably harder for me.

"In Australia I've learned a lot over the past four or five years keeping up to the stumps and I've got to continue to improve that. I enjoy keeping up tot he stumps because then you're in the game, and you're challenged a lot. In Adelaide I probably didn't have the greatest game up to the stumps, I kept as well as I did in Perth in Adelaide, I just a missed a couple of chances and it gets highlighted a lot more - as it should - than other things."

Once, those lapses would have been terminal for a Test keeper's career, but now the requirement to add runs as well as dismissals has had the effect of spreading their responsibilities, and also their chances to justify their place. "It's definitely an allrounder's position but it's probably better for the keepers now to have two positions," Wade said. "Back in the day if you didn't keep well enough you got dropped, simple as that. Now you've got both aspects, batting and keeping, so it's probably a good thing for us because we're expected to make runs and keep also - we've got two opportunities to do well in the game."

Given how many are straining to have the job Wade currently enjoys, two chances at success are certainly better than one.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on December 14, 2012, 0:43 GMT

    @ ygkd on (December 12 2012, 09:46 AM GMT) - I agree with what you say, to maybe answer the question you stated " come those who bat better (like Handscomb) get accolades, but those who keep better don't?.." I think it is because scoring runs is more quantifiable than how well a keeper maximises opportunities. So if a keeper/batsmen like Wade is averaging 40, how easy it to dig up a stat that might say he converts 85% of chances with the gloves, yet Ludeman who may average 25, maximises 95% of opportunities. I think good keepers make keeping look easy when it is a lot harder than what appears to be, so I think there is a certain amount of thought that if a Keeper is keeping at Shield level - he must be okay, so the point of difference is how good can he bat?????

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    i'd like to see chris hartley as the keeper i'm sure he's the best keeper in the country and he's a much improved batsmen in all 3 forms of the game yes the photo is very damning he isn't watching the ball :(

  • Philip on December 13, 2012, 7:46 GMT

    The problem is not whether a keeper should be up at the stumps, that should be for them to decide, but whether or not they're sufficiently practised at that skill in the first place. There is hardly a surplus of decent spinners coming through the ranks, so keepers are not necessarily tested like they could be.

  • Roo on December 13, 2012, 5:13 GMT

    @Daniel Brettig :- "Wade knows that behind him in the queue lurks a small army of stumpers" - Haddin, Paine, Hartley... Small army?...

    Haddin took 9 Tests to get his 1st century (& highest score) - against NZ at Adelaide Oval... His 1st series was agains WI in the WI's - he failed to make a 50 in that series... Wade is already at Haddins batting average after only 6 Tests - time will tell...

    Paine - hasn't shown much form with the bat this season in SS - probably needs a full season to get back into the groove, followed by a season in England...

    Hartley - probably the best specialist keeper in Oz, but will not outrank the above two & not even above Nevill atm due to the allrounder required...

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 0:45 GMT

    I do not feel Wade is a good enough keeper to have the spot. Nor is he a good enough batsmen to keep his spot. I am definitely missing some understanding of the selection process that justifies Wades continued run in the test team...

  • Tim on December 13, 2012, 0:13 GMT

    Wade is a good keeper. He needs to be given a bit more time is all. Haddin had a long run to get his keeping up to standard but it fell away a lot towards the end. He shouldn't be a candidate to replace Wade.

  • Rohan on December 12, 2012, 23:12 GMT

    People are way too quick to jump on Wade's back. Did Marsh, Heals or Gilly never drop a crucial catch or missed stumping? Heals cost us a series win in Pakistan in 94 with a missed stumping. Gilly had plenty of detractors early on over his keeping, until he showed us his mighty batting! And Marsh, well as great as he was, he still had iron gloves for a nickname! One year ago we were all lambasting Haddin for being terrible, keeping and batting, yet some not only want him back but reckon he never should've been dropped! Like Australia, Wade is a work in progress and hopefully will keep improving to become excellent. In the meantime, fair dinkum, be supportive, press and public!

  • Anthony on December 12, 2012, 22:59 GMT

    That photo is rather damning of a poor technique. He is looking where he assumed that Smith hit it, rather than always assuming that he will catch the ball. No wonder the stumping was missed.

  • Colin on December 12, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    Average keeper for an average team.

  • michael on December 12, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    All these keepers mentioned are still a distant second to Prior. The best keeper/batsman since Gilchrist. From what I've seen, Paine looks the most complete player and the one worth investing in.

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