Not picked between Haddin and Wade yet, insists Clarke
Australia's captain and selector Michael Clarke has flatly denied reports that Brad Haddin's Test career has been terminated, opening the way for his younger rival Matthew Wade to take the gloves for the first Test of the summer against South Africa in Brisbane.
Clarke and the rest of the selection panel, comprising the national selector John Inverarity, the coach Mickey Arthur, Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel, met in Sydney on Monday afternoon following Cricket Australia's season launch for a planning meeting. However Clarke was adamant that no decision had been made on whether Haddin would reclaim the Test place he gave up for personal reasons in the West Indies earlier this year.
"I'm one of five selectors and if you're asking me as a selector that's completely false, it hasn't been discussed," Clarke said. "It obviously is a topic for discussion and will be spoken about over the next couple of weeks that's for sure. It's probably one of the most important decisions that needs to be made leading up to the first Test match, and whoever gets left out it is going to be tough on them.
"Not only have they both performed at the highest level, Hadds has a lot of experience and has been successful over a long period of time, Wadey's done every single thing in his power to make the most of his opportunity - he got a hundred in his last Test match. So it's going to be a tough decision. I know the selectors and I will be discussing that over the next couple of weeks.
"We need to talk about it, the selection panel need to talk about it. We need to see both sides, and we'll pick the best XI for that game, that opposition, those conditions. That's the only way you can do it. It's not personal, it's about what we think is the best team for that first Test.
"It has been a tough time for Hadds - any single one of us would've made the exact same decision that Brad did in regards to going home and making sure he was there to support his family. He certainly knows how I feel about that and I have openly supported him on that.
"The other side is Matthew Wade cannot do anything more to be selected for that first Test. He has performed as well as any player, he has made the most of his opportunities, he's an amazing talent, and he's going to be a big player for Australian cricket over a long period of time."
Since his early exit from the Caribbean, Haddin has undergone a full pre-season with New South Wales and made a century for the Blues in their Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania at Bankstown Oval before flying to South Africa to lead the Sydney Sixers in the Twenty20 Champions League. Wade, meanwhile, had his struggles on the ODI tour of England and had limited batting opportunities in the UAE and Sri Lanka, though he kept soundly throughout.
However a match-turning innings of 89 for Victoria against Queensland on a lively Gabba pitch last week may prove pivotal in the duel for the keeping spot, as Wade demonstrated his capacity for making runs in the sort of pace-friendly environment likely to be relished by South Africa's vaunted trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander next month.
Ricky Ponting, having watched Haddin's entire Test career from up close, said the 35-year-old still had plenty to offer, but acknowledged the difficulty of the decision. "There are arguments for both at the moment, Hadds is a great mate of mine and we've got lots of off-field memories," Ponting said. "I saw him up close and personal a couple of weeks ago in the Shield game in Bankstown and he played beautifully, hit the ball really well and kept very, very well.
"So I know his game's in really good shape. Then you look at Matty Wade, he has really grabbed his opportunity, made a brilliant hundred in the Caribbean, he has had a great game up in Brisbane last week, so there are two great arguments to be put there as far as selection is concerned. Every Australian side that's picked, there are always a few guys who think they're unlucky or hard done by, and one of those two guys is going to miss selection for Brisbane.
"I've got no doubt in my mind that Hadds has a lot to offer, and I saw it up close in that Shield game. I don't think anyone will be writing Brad off, he's a great character to have around the team, and he's an unbelievable talent with bat and gloves."
The most influential voice at the selection table may well be that of Marsh, the former gloveman who has worked extensively with Haddin in the past. More recently Marsh was a tour mentor for Wade, spending plenty of time with the younger man on the West Indies tour as he fought an ultimately successful battle to adapt to extremely unfamiliar and challenging conditions for both wicketkeeping and batting.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here