Shrewd selectors keep Haddin in the frame
Matthew Wade is now Australia's undisputed No. 1 wicketkeeper, and for the moment Brad Haddin is the undisputed No. 2. Australia's selectors stopped significantly short of ending Haddin's international career in naming the team for the first Test against South Africa in Brisbane. They know there will likely be a time over the next 18 demanding months when he may still be needed, not least during the 2013 Ashes series in England.
Wicketkeeping handovers can be high on emotion and significance since they happen so rarely. When Adam Gilchrist was given the Test gloves ahead of Ian Healy for the 1999 Gabba Test against Pakistan, the senior man was decidedly upset at not being allowed the chance to play a final time at home, and his relationship with the chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns - a team-mate on the storied 1989 Ashes tour - was significantly damaged. Feeling ran high because there was no question whatsoever about Healy coming back in case of injury: Hohns felt his time was up.
Yet the Haddin/Wade duel has been settled without a hint of rancour, and without the whiff of finality about Haddin's chances of returning. This is partly because the decision has been reached over time, with plenty of communication between all parties. At no stage has Haddin seemed uneasy or uninformed about his place in the scheme of things, while at the same time Wade has not appeared perturbed by the prospect of losing his place despite making a pivotal century in his third and most recent Test match.
There is also the fact that Haddin has been reassured that he is far from done as an option for the selectors. As the national selector John Inverarity so frankly stated on Monday, Haddin has been told that he will regain his place should Wade be injured. At 35, Haddin is in this way benefiting from the same thinking that has Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey not obliged to answer any questions from the selection panel about retirement even as they push ever deeper into their 30s.
"I phoned Brad towards the end of last week, and we had a really good conversation," Inverarity said. "Part of that conversation was that he was still very much in the reckoning, and I gave him the assurance that if Matthew Wade were to be injured in the first Test, he'd be our replacement wicketkeeper coming into the second Test. Nobody knows what the future will bring but he's very much in contention. If there was an injury he could come back very quickly. He's a very fit 35-year-old. He remains strongly in contention."
The future, of course, features four Test matches in India, and the Ashes tour of England beyond them. It is a schedule that will stretch the resources of Australian cricket, most critically in batting and slow bowling. Inverarity's panel are better served for fast bowlers and glovemen, but by keeping Haddin in the frame for the summer they have also given him the Ashes to aim for. As far back as January, the coach and selector Mickey Arthur said he wanted Haddin to be part of the Ashes campaign.
"Behind the stumps, the leadership he gives us is insurmountable and you can't put a price on that," Arthur had said. "I'm comfortable with where Brad's at, yes we'd like more runs from him, but I'm really comfortable that Brad is on the right track. Yes we've got to get performance and nobody is guaranteed their position, but I'm very comfortable that Brad Haddin could potentially go forward to the Ashes series."
Since then, Wade has moved ahead, but Haddin remains a strong chance of going to England as the back-up wicketkeeper and a senior member of the touring squad. His experience of England and personal success on the 2009 tour would be a useful asset to the tourists, especially given some of Wade's struggles while taking the gloves in the 4-0 ODI series defeat Australia suffered in June and July. Wicketkeeping in England requires an awareness of certain subtleties, like the ball's tendency to move in the air after it has passed the bat, and Haddin adapted far better to them on his visits to the other side of the world than Wade did this year. Even if Wade retains the gloves throughout the tour, Haddin's advice and intensity as a training partner would be highly useful.
As captain and selector, Michael Clarke would also benefit from Haddin's presence. By countenancing Wade's retention, Clarke showed he is quite capable of making team-focused selection decisions without being swayed by friendship. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Haddin's alliance with Clarke remains an important part of Australia's tactical thinking. Their conversations will take place more often over the phone than in the slips cordon this summer.
"The one thing I've said to the players since taking over the captaincy and becoming a selector is that no selection I have any impact on will be personal," Clarke said. "It's all about what's best for the team, and I've spoken to Brad and he knows this won't affect our relationship. We've been great friends for a long time, I think I played my first game with Brad when I was 17. Things won't change there, he's been a great player for a long time and this certainly isn't the end of his career in my opinion."
Others watched the decision between Wade and Haddin with plenty of interest, also. For Peter Nevill, Haddin's No. 2 in New South Wales, he now looks likely to play out the summer as a top order batsman and outfielder for the Blues, resigned to pressing his case for further honours with runs alone. Tim Paine, set to take the gloves for Australia A against South Africa this week, is reminded that the selectors would like him to play a full season without succumbing to finger trouble, and to add to his solitary first-class century.
Paine's place in team planning has another level of intrigue to it, for in 2010 he batted and kept wicket with outstanding reliability in India, commonly considered the most vexing of assignments for a wicketkeeper. He did so well as to cast Haddin's 2008 tour of the subcontinent in harsh light, and there is the chance that should Wade slip up or fall prey to injury in India, the selectors might be tempted to replace him with Paine.
The remainder of the domestic summer will be fascinating for how Paine and Haddin fare in competition with one another, and for whether Haddin is sufficiently motivated by the prospect of a back-up spot on the plane to England. Either way, the choice of Wade over Haddin for Brisbane was a sound one, and the reluctance of the selectors to cast Haddin entirely out of contention reflected their collective shrewdness.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here