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December 12, 2012
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 hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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