January 11, 2014

Would you pick Haddin over Gilchrist for an Ashes Test?

Haddin's record against England is better than his illustrious predecessor's, and he played for a far weaker team

Haddin has had to haul Australia out of trouble many more times than Gilchrist needed to in an Ashes series © Getty Images

Adam Gilchrist is considered by many as the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman in Test history, and rightly so. AB de Villiers (1482 runs at 58 as wicketkeeper) might eventually challenge him for the spot. But if we look at the numbers alone, Andy Flower is Gilchrist's only serious rival for this honour. Seventeen Test hundreds, 5570 Test runs at 47.60, the ability to destroy bowling attacks and the skill to keep with distinction to Lee's lightning pace, Warne's guile and MacGill's exaggerated turn, make Gilchrist's claim in both departments a strong one. No other player comes close. Kumar Sangakkara (3117 runs at 40.48 as wicketkeeper) might have challenged Gilchrist, but Sri Lanka chose to relieve him of keeping duties for good in 2008, and the results have been spectacular (7440 runs at 68 in 70 Tests).

In Ashes Tests, it is a different story. England, India and Sri Lanka were Gilchrist's toughest opponents in Tests. Overall, his record against England is wonderful. But I would argue that Brad Haddin has an even better one.

Haddin and Gilchrist in Ashes Tests
  Haddin Gilchrist
Matches 19 20
Innings 33 28
Runs 1337 1083
Average 43.1 45.1
Strike-rate 61.8 92.0
Centuries 3 3
Fifties 11 6
Team average 33.7 42.8
Median first-innings score at which innings began, batting first 138 (ten inn) 438 (7 inn)
Median first-innings score at which innings began, fielding first 112 (nine inn) 230 (13 inn)
Median score in all innings at which innings began 143 243

Haddin has made more Ashes runs than Gilchrist. The comparison in the table above also shows that Haddin has been more central to Australia's batting when he played than Gilchrist was. Australia did not need Gilchrist to bat twice in 60% of his 20 Ashes Tests. For Haddin, this figure is 26%. Haddin was marginally more consistent with the bat than Gilchrist, reaching fifty 14 times in 33 innings, compared to Gilchrist's nine in 28 innings.

Haddin and Gilchrist have uncannily similar Ashes histories. Each has played four Ashes series and had one poor series in England. For Gilchrist it was the 2005 tour. For Haddin it was the 2013 tour. Both made Test hundreds in their first, second and fourth series. But the similarity ends there. The Australian Ashes sides that these two wicketkeepers played in were very different from each other.

When Australia batted first, the median first-innings score at which Adam Gilchrist walked in to bat was 408 for 5. The lowest Australian score that brought Gilchrist to the wicket was 87 for 5 at Lord's in 2005. He made 26. On another occasion, Gilchrist walked in at 172 for 5 in Perth in 2006, and made 0. In the other five instances, the lowest score was 355 for 5 at Leeds in 2001.

When Australia batted first, the median score at which Haddin walked in to bat is 138 for 5. Of ten Australian first innings, seven saw Haddin walk in to bat with a score of 156 or less. He reached 50 five times in those seven innings.

When Australia fielded first, the median first-innings score at which Gilchrist walked in to bat was 230. In five of 13 instances in Ashes Tests in which Australia fielded first, they already had a first-innings lead by the time Gilchrist entered. In Sydney in 2003, Gilchrist played arguably his greatest Ashes innings, making 133 in 121 balls after coming in to bat at 150 for 5 in response to England's first innings of 362.

When Australia fielded first, the median first-innings score at which Haddin walked in to bat was 112. Australia were still trailing seven out of nine times.

In third innings of Ashes Tests, Gilchrist batted three times, with Australia having leads of 290, 359 and 394 already on the board. In the last of these three instances, in Perth in 2006, he made a brutal 102 not out in 59 balls.

In third innings of Ashes Tests, Haddin has a poor record, but he typically batted with Australia well on top. Apart from his promotion to No. 4 at The Oval in 2013, Australia's lowest lead when Haddin started his innings in the third innings of an Ashes Test was 268. In addition to this, Haddin also batted three times in the third innings with Australia still trailing. This was in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in the 2010-11 Ashes. Australia lost all three games.

In Ashes matches when he batted in the fourth innings, Gilchrist played in one win, one draw and two defeats. In the win he walked in with 17 required (the target was 107). In the draw, he walked in at 165 for 4 at Old Trafford in 2005, a promotion that was seen at the time as an Australian push to win on the fifth day. But Gilchrist made 4 in 30 balls. In the two defeats, he walked in with 148 and 343 to win, and made 1 and 37.

Haddin had two realistic opportunities to force Australian wins in five fourth innings. At Trent Bridge in 2013, he walked in with Australia needing 150 more to win. He shepherded the Australian innings to within 14 runs of the target before being the last man out for 71. In the fourth Test of that series, Australia reached 168 for 2, chasing 299 in Chester-le-Street, before collapsing to 224 all out. Haddin was one of Stuart Broad's victims for 4.

Haddin's batting was more important to the Australian Ashes sides he played in than Gilchrist's was to Waugh's and Ponting's sides. Gilchrist was clearly the more brilliant, explosive batsman, but Australia could have done without his runs. Had they played a wicketkeeper like Healy in Gilchrist's place in those Ashes series, they still would have won. The same cannot be said of Haddin. Be it taking Australia to respectability in otherwise brittle first innings, or setting up declarations, Haddin's counter-attacking style was crucial to his team's fortunes.

When future historians look back at the Ashes, they will almost certainly give Gilchrist a lot of attention. He had an illustrious career as a wicketkeeper-batsman in Tests beyond the Ashes. Haddin has been something of an Ashes specialist for Australia, playing 19 of his 54 Tests so far against England (Australia have played 71 Tests since Haddin's debut in 2008). Haddin also wouldn't make too many all-time Australian Ashes teams, but perhaps the choice between Haddin and Gilchrist is not as clear cut as one might think.

Gilchrist tasted more Ashes success than Haddin, but I suggest that the three Ashes series Gilchrist won had already been won before he came to the wicket. His keeping to Warne, Lee, McGrath, Gillespie, Bichel and others was far more important than his runs. His greatest Ashes innings came in a dead rubber in Sydney with Australia 4-0 up. This is as it should be. In any good Test team, the wicketkeeper's ability to make runs should be a bonus. In Haddin's case, this was not always so, especially in the ten Tests in 2013, his batting at No. 7 has been crucial time and again, often saving a faltering first innings.

Perhaps Gilchrist's record will prompt historians to wonder to what extent he was able to play like he did precisely because Australia didn't depend on his batting. Could Gilchrist have played the same way if he had been used as one of the top six batsmen? He rarely was. He batted 14 times at No. 6, compared to 100 times at No. 7 in Tests. Gilchrist clearly had the ability to bat in the top order. He played his greatest Test innings at No. 3, in my view. But like Kallis the bowler, was Gilchrist the batsman basically a luxury?

As someone who played Test cricket late in his first-class career, in the shadow of the greatest wicketkeeper-batsmen of all, Haddin may not interest too many Ashes historians. But if Haddin and Gilchrist are judged based on what they did in the Ashes, and not just based on how much ability they had, then Haddin comes out just ahead, in my view.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here