Haddin delivers under pressure
Brad Haddin has been adamant that he wants to leave his own mark on the Test team instead of trying to copy his unique predecessor Adam Gilchrist. Eight unremarkable appearances into his career his mark was threatening to become a blot but his 169 in Adelaide has confirmed him as Australia's wicketkeeper of the future.
It was an innings full of fortune and flair, bravado and borrowed time, but most importantly for Haddin it was an innings crammed with runs. No Australian had made a higher Test score since Ricky Ponting opened the 2006-07 Ashes series with 196 at the Gabba and for Haddin, the effort has strengthened his resolve that he must play his natural aggressive game.
He and his two brothers run a fitness company and Haddin seems like he would be more comfortable with ten frenetic minutes on the speedball than an hour of sweating on the stepping machine. It's an approach that has served him well in limited-overs cricket, where he has been considered good enough to play ODIs as a specialist batsman. It's also a method that will bring him scrutiny at Test level, as he has discovered in his first year at the highest level.
Haddin has not been terrible with the bat in his first eight Tests; although he failed to post a half-century he averaged 26.07 and that was a mark that in the pre-Gilchrist era would have been considered perfectly acceptable for the team's gloveman. It is the style of his dismissals that brought him under the spotlight.
Of the five times he was out in his debut series in the West Indies, he was caught playing attacking strokes thrice and once was lbw going for a cross-batted shot. In India his six dismissals included a mistimed drive to mid-on, a stumping when he advanced to Anil Kumble, and a catch at cover failing to pick Ishant Sharma's slower ball. Such endings can look ugly at Test level, especially when the team needs steadiness as it did in India.
By the time his first Test on home soil came around at the Gabba last week, Haddin was so nervous that he felt he was tensing up and unable to play his natural game. He began defensively and it meant that when New Zealand made the tempting bowling change to bring on the medium-pacer Jesse Ryder, Haddin's eyes lit up and his attempted drive was edged to slip.
An astute thinker on the game who has been a successful captain of New South Wales, Haddin knew the pressure was building. So when he clipped a boundary through midwicket off Tim Southee to bring up his first Test century, his excitement was understandable. Haddin swung his bat around and around, so wildly it looked like he was winding up for the hammerthrow, and a kiss of the helmet and hug from Michael Clarke completed the celebrations.
The pressure was off and with his glovework also improving, Haddin was feeling at ease. He was fortunate to get to triple-figures but rarely does a batsman stroke a truly chanceless hundred. He was on 3 when he tried to hook a short ball from Chris Martin and survived the confident appeals of the New Zealanders, who thought he had nicked it behind. There were other moments of luck when balls bobbled past the stumps or were struck close to fielders, and the most obvious let-off came when Daniel Flynn dropped a sitter when Haddin chipped Daniel Vettori to mid-on when he had 72.
The good fortune allowed Haddin to show his full range of strokes, something he had been unable to demonstrate before at Test level. He punched the fast bowlers for well-timed fours that raced across the expansive Adelaide Oval outfield, he used his feet to Vettori and went over the top on several occasions and when his century was safely confirmed, he let loose with a couple of sixes clubbed square off Aaron Redmond.
Haddin was effective but rarely did he look like a typical Test batsman whereas his partner in a 181-run stand, Clarke, was every bit the five-day compiler. Clarke's 110 was his fourth Test century this year and his style could not have contrasted more vividly with that of Haddin. Clarke was on 48 when Haddin came to the crease and the men reached their centuries within 14 balls of each other.
The most noticeable difference was in the way they handled the indefatigable Vettori, who bowled 31.4 overs for the day. Vettori took an over-the-stumps, outside-leg line that in most situations would be viewed as defensive. To Clarke it was; he kicked the majority of the deliveries away and waited to score at the other end. To Haddin, it was a viable ploy to get him out. He was uncomfortable thrusting his pad to the ball and he could use the method for only a few balls at a time before sweeping over the top or advancing to drive.
Haddin's tactics worked on this occasion but they won't always be successful in Test cricket. Perhaps he could learn something from the measured approach taken by Clarke, and by Michael Hussey on the second day. But maybe that's asking Haddin to be something he is not and when a man has just made 169 in his ninth Test, it's hard to argue against him playing his natural game. Haddin's style of play will lead to spectacular successes and extravagant failures but if the fans and selectors appreciate him for who he is, he has every chance of leaving his own mark on the Test team.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo