Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney, 3rd day January 5, 2012

Wade vindicates his promotion

Matthew Wade's century in Sydney showed that he has the fighting instincts and batting power to add tungsten to the Australian middle order at a time when there is brittleness elsewhere

On Test match eve, Michael Clarke was posed an earnest question: having reclassified Mitchell Johnson as an allrounder, was Australia's captain giving any thought to promoting him to No. 6, ahead of Matthew Wade? Generally Clarke will give any question its due, even if most of his answers tend to be towards the safe side. This time, though, his response was pointedly dismissive.

"He won't be batting No. 6 ahead of Wade," Clarke said. "He is a genuine top-order batsman, Matthew Wade. It's just that he keeps, so batting at six or seven gives him more time to recover. He has been hitting the ball really well [though] hasn't made a big score for a while, so I wouldn't be surprised if you see him walk out and make a hundred in this Test match."

Emphatic as those words were, they paled next to the actions with which Wade vindicated his middle-order posting on the third morning at the SCG. In guiding the tail through the morning and making a joyous century, Wade set Australia up for a much improved third-day performance in which Sri Lanka were hurried towards defeat. There is even a case to be made that Australia's wicketkeeper should be considered for a higher commission than No. 6. At the very least, he should be acknowledged as Australia's best allrounder - more reliable than Johnson, more durable than Shane Watson.

As he did in Dominica last April, guiding Australia out of awkward circumstances with another compelling century, Wade arrived at the wicket at a moment on the second evening when the game was slipping from his team's grasp. He was cautious early on, even a little uncertain, as he tried to get acquainted with the turning ball. The early passages of a Wade innings can appear hesitant, almost apologetic, for he commits time to establishing himself deliberately, not manoeuvring the ball around with the alacrity of Michael Hussey.

But there is invariably a moment in Wade's innings when he clicks up several gears, going from a posture of reacting to the circumstances to an altogether more assertive one where his intent is to set the tone for proceedings. In Dominica, that moment had been when he passed 50. Earlier this summer against South Africa in Brisbane, Wade stodged his way to two from 23 balls, before cracking a straight drive that nearly took the head off Rory Kleinveldt, then cutting him to the boundary next ball. Wade plays himself in carefully, but having done so he feels free to unleash.

In Sydney the point at which Wade declared his intent sticks in the memory not so much for the runs that were gathered as for the pain that was inflicted. On 22 he had endured a torturous period in which he was given out caught behind and escaped via DRS - which spotted a no-ball in addition to the absence of an edge. Next he was dropped at short leg, and finally given out caught at bat pad off Rangana Herath's bowling - this dismissal was also overturned via the DRS, but it was clear that a change in approach was required.

In the same over Wade responded to a pair of similarly pitched deliveries from Herath by sweeping with a great deal of venom. Twice he knelt down to play the shot, twice he connected sweetly, and twice Dimuth Karunaratne was sent hopping around the infield after being struck stinging blows to the body. From this over Wade was far more committed in his intentions and went to stumps well set on 47.

A series of indifferent strokes and questionable judgements by the other batsmen had left Wade with only the tail for company on the third morning, and his innings resumed in a collected manner. Again he followed the pattern of the evening before, gathering himself and reading the circumstances before going on the offensive. This time the loss of wickets forced Wade into greater aggression, but when he chose to attack after the arrival of the last man Jackson Bird he did so with breathtaking precision and power, going from 70 to 101 in 18 blistering balls.

Nuwan Pradeep felt the brunt, as Wade bisected the two men roaming the offside boundary early in an over, before taking advantage of the field coming up to stop the single by cuffing behind point for another. On a pitch Phillip Hughes had described as difficult to drive on, Wade's timing was beyond compare, pinging further boundaries to cover and wide long off. He saved his best for the shot that took him from 97 to 101, gliding with power to the square side of deep cover and racing in ebullient celebration towards the dressing room.

Given that this will be the last match in which Michael Hussey takes a place in the middle order, it was a performance to hearten Australia, expert in its rhythm and decisive in its execution. Wade's wicketkeeping has a little further to go, particularly on the higher bouncing surfaces of Australia, but his fighting instincts and batting power to give them full vent offer tungsten to the middle order at a time when there is brittleness elsewhere.

As for where Wade might bat in the future, it is worth remembering another line from Clarke, which he uttered in the wake of the Dominica innings. "I think if he plays the way he's been playing," Clarke had said, "there's no doubt he could play as a batsman." Those words ring truer now than ever.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on January 6, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    @ygkd: some highly illuminating & incisive insights about the history of Aussie keeping there. Totally agree about Chandimal, too: he oozed class as a batsman during the ODI leg of Sri Lanka's 2011 England tour, made two hugely impressive fifties in a famous Sri Lankan win in his Test debut at Durban in 2011-12, added another against Pakistan last July, already has a Test batting average of 40 & a FC average of 55 (with 27 plus-50 scores in 65 innings), is a demonstrably fine keeper to boot, yet, mystifyingly, cannot command a regular place in a deeply fallible Sri Lankan batting line-up.

    Anyway, back to the Aussie keeping conundrum. Wade, in the batting form of his life, has now been 'rested' for the first two ODIs, thus providing a golden opportunity for the excellent Tim Paine (no mean batsman himself) to have a go with the gloves. But wait. Whose name is that I see on the team-sheet instead: surely not that of the modern-day Iron Gloves himself, Brad Haddin? Utterly beyond satire.

  • jmcilhinney on January 6, 2013, 3:53 GMT

    It's worth remembering that Wade was dropped twice on his way to this century. Obviously many a good innings has been played after being dropped, so I'm not picking on Wade specifically but, if either of those chances had been held then this story would never have been written and, in fact, some people may have been writing specifically that Wade had failed to justify his promotion. It's often a fine line between success and failure for a batsman because it only takes one ball to get out. Sometimes a good batsman gets out early and we say they did badly but if they had been lucky enough to get past that one ball they may have gone on to get a hundred. That's what a lot of people fail to recognise when they complain about bowlers getting dropped more easily than batsmen. If a bowler performs poorly in a game then they have done so over a number of overs. If a batsman performs poorly in a game then he has really only done so for two balls.

  • ygkd on January 6, 2013, 3:39 GMT

    I remember old "Iron Gloves" quite well, presuming that it is Marsh that is meant, not Jones or Kamran or any of the many others who have been so described, for keepers do struggle at times, especially early in their careers. But there's struggling and there's really struggling...

  • dummy4fb on January 6, 2013, 2:34 GMT

    It's funny, I'm old enough to remember a young Australian keeper get tagged with the nickname "Iron Gloves" early in his career.

    Go look him up, he had a fairly respectable career.

  • ygkd on January 6, 2013, 0:08 GMT

    Oops.. said lower than seven when obviously I meant higher. Also, what does Tim Paine have to do now that he's been overlooked for the ODIs?

  • landl47 on January 5, 2013, 23:33 GMT

    I'm with OzWally- as good as Wade was with the bat, he wasn't good enough standing up as a keeper. This might not matter too much in Australia or England (though I'm sure Lyon would disagree) but in India it's vital that the best keeper plays. The best Australian keeper I've seen out of the present crop is Paine. If Wade's good enough to bat in the top 6, then play him as a batsman, but don't pick him as a keeper in India unless he really is the best keeper. England has picked Bairstow as a batsman, but he's not a good enough keeper to displace Prior. Australia needs to make a similar decision.

  • splitvocal on January 5, 2013, 22:29 GMT

    maybe all these other players arent in the team because they arent friends with clarke!! we all know from the past doesnt matter how good or what form your in if you not nice to clarke you cant be in his team! katich for instance

  • ygkd on January 5, 2013, 21:33 GMT

    I recall reading that Dinesh Chandimal struggled with the bat at U19 level and below and thus relied heavily on his keeping. He now, at the tender age of 23, looks like a right-handed Sangakkara, with a FC batting average well over 50 and a more-than-respectable keeping technique to spin. As such, I believe he is fortunate he is not Australian, as late developers are not afforded such time here. I would like to be wrong about that, because wicket-keepers are not made overnight. Gilchrist started about the age of nine. Healy started at a similar young age. And they both worked intensively at their technique up at the stumps, fitting it in with their batting. The proof was in in the pudding. The best FC keeper currently in the land said a few years ago that he believed child keepers, if they could bat, should concentrate most on their glovework. Their batting would improve with age. I wasn't sure about it then but I believe it now. There lies the difference between Wade & Chandimal.