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The first time I saw Matthew Wade keep he was horrible. Truly disgustingly bad. It was like his gloves were ceramic tiles that had been attached just for the day. At the time I couldn’t work out why Victoria had been talking this kid up.
And kid was the right word, he looked seven.
Victoria’s wicketkeepers usually look like angry men who you’d see at the back of dodgy pubs playing cards. Men like Darren Berry or ‘Slug’ Jordon who could dismiss you with their gloves, chunky thighs or behind-the-wicket abuse.
At this point it wasn’t clear if Wade had as yet been allowed into a pub.
Wade’s batting was never in question. From the first time I saw Wade bat three things were blatantly obvious. For a tiny little seven-year-old, he could really murder the ball. He was a fighter. And he could really bat.
At this stage it hardly mattered. Wade was a young man trying to make his way. Brad Haddin was the national keeper. Luke Ronchi was back-up limited-overs keeper. Graham Manou was picked for the Ashes back-up slot before Tim Paine was Haddin’s unlucky back-up. Paine was better with the gloves than Wade, was a solid more reliable batsmen than Wade. With Chris Hartley around as well, Wade might have been as far back as fifth in line.
But things changed quickly. Manou was seen as a one series back-up. Ronchi lost form and is now moving to New Zealand. Hartley could never shake the tag of not being quite good enough with the bat. Paine’s hands have never recovered from facing Dirk Nannes. And now Brad Haddin has a family illness to deal with.
You can’t ask for much more luck than this. Not that Wade needs the luck. The player you see now is not the same Wade I saw back at the MCG with ceramic hands and the face of a seven-year-old. His wicketkeeping is not great, but compared with most international wicket keepers it’s not horrible. Most importantly he’s improving all the time. His face has also changed. Australian wicketkeepers have a certain look more often than not. It’s that Marsh, Haddin and Healy face. Grizzled down by a working class life but with a touch of cheekiness to it and vicious squinty eyes. Wade already has that face three Tests in.
Wade looks, walks and plays like a fighter. He’s perpetually scrappy.
Wade also has a Test Century to his name. In only his third Test. Haddin only has three from 43 Tests, and those came in totals of 481, 535 and 674. Wade’s was in a total of 328 when no other batsman had made a hundred. Something else Haddin has never done. It was the sort of Test century you make in a really good day dream. The team are away from home, they’re struggling, and the big names have disappeared. In this knock Wade showed he could defend, attack and annihilate when it was required. And most importantly that he was reliable when really needed.
According to Michael Clarke, and an ever-decreasing group of Haddin loyalists, Brad Haddin is still the No. 1 choice for Australia Test keeper.
It’s hard to see that when Wade plays like this.
Matthew Wade has overcome cancer, improved his keeping at every opportunity, fights as hard as anyone in the Australia set-up and has now shown he can seriously bat. Perhaps he’s not the man just yet, but he’s certainly more than the nervous boy I saw only a few years ago.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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