August 3, 2015

Two sides to the Haddin case

For all the emotion tied to his family situation and the depth of his contribution to the Test side, he was seriously out of form with the bat

Haddin's mentorship of Nevill is a mark of his value to the side © Getty Images

It's not often that both sides of an Australian selection debate are correct but in the case of Brad Haddin's omission from the Edgbaston Test, they were fairly close to it.

It was certainly a tough call on a stalwart player but two of the most vocal critics of the decision - Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden - have also been among the most strident supporters of Darren Lehmann's back-to-basics approach to coaching the national team, and what value is more old school than putting the team before the individual and dropping an out-of-form player?

There's an underlying depth to Hayden's and Warne's staunch support of Haddin, you would assume. Warne was a legspinner, the type of bowler for whom a good wicketkeeper is most valuable, a co-conspirator even. The relationship between a spinner and a keeper is generally a closer one than it is for quick bowlers and keepers.

Listening to Chris Rogers dead-bat questions about Haddin's demotion before the third Test, you couldn't help but wonder about Nathan Lyon's view. To take as many Test wickets as he did, Warne needed his keepers - Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist - to read his bowling even better than the batsman did. Were Twitter around in the mid-'90s, half Warne's tweets might have been about how great his Victorian team-mate Darren Berry was at keeping to spin.

For Australia, Hayden stood in the slips cordon beside Ian Healy, Adam Gilchrist and Haddin, and counted the impeccable Wade Seccombe among his Queensland team-mates - a solid grounding in appraising the thankless work of the keeper, whose 400 flawless takes in a day can be entirely forgotten in favour of one error. Rod Marsh once said that wicketkeeping was "the craft about which even the finest students of the game know little". Warne and Hayden know a decent amount about it, but also and with a little hindsight, the toll that touring with the Australian side takes on family time.

Still, Marsh and Lehmann seemed right on this tough call, because for all the emotion tied to Haddin's family situation and the depth of his contribution to the Test side, he was woefully out of form with the bat, looking a little shaky with the gloves, and therefore in no position to be holding Peter Nevill back, even in the middle of an Ashes series.

Public indications are that Haddin's long-time mentorship of the understudy has continued, as good an indication as any of his value to the squad, and a reminder that keepers learn best from each other. When Wally Grout could only force his way into the Queensland team as a specialist batsman, he studied incumbent keeper Don Tallon in wonder, quickly adopting his technique to spinners, which was to take the ball in his right glove when it shot down the leg side, leaving the left to handle any thick edges. Eventually that knowledge was passed on to Barry Jarman, who was Grout's apprentice for 27 Tests.

A decent number of people will still feel it an injustice that Haddin's Test career should end like this, but it is at least with precedent

Nevill responded in Birmingham with two quintessentially Haddin knocks: bowled neck and crop in comical circumstances (being bowled has been a regular and unfortunate occurrence for Haddin in recent times) and then pulling the second innings out of the fire with a rearguard half-century of unflinching strength. Haddin played so many of the latter type of innings and Australia weren't a prayer of winning the 2013-14 Ashes in a whitewash were it not for that fact. It's understandable that they entered the series thinking he could do it again, but that moment has now passed.

Given the mixed fortunes of the Australian Test side after their own departures from the game, it was odd that neither Warne nor Hayden acknowledged the need for staggered transition in this ageing Australian line-up. Ryan Harris is already gone, and within 12 months so too could Rogers and Haddin be, and perhaps the captain, Michael Clarke. Those are huge holes when you consider the faltering efforts of current middle-order batsmen Adam Voges and Mitch Marsh. Runs from the No. 7 suddenly feel more important than ever, and a very rude shock might await Australia in their next home Test series, against New Zealand. All the better that Nevill is earning his stripes in a high-pressure setting.

At the very least, most who have watched him would agree that Nevill has been a Test-standard batsman for some time now, and a few footwork issues aside, his Test keeping has been solid so far. A decent number of people will still feel it an injustice that Haddin's Test career should end like this, but it is at least with precedent. Ian Healy was famously denied his Brisbane farewell in 1999, but the in-out-in nature of Haddin's reign as Australia's custodian is better reflected in Wally Grout's career path and the unsentimental way he was replaced.

In 1965, 37-year-old Grout had hoped to make the West Indies trip his last hurrah as an Australian tourist, and optimistically primed national selector Sir Donald Bradman by stating his plans to include a few chapters on the trip in his upcoming autobiography. "That is too bad, Wal," shot back Bradman. "The manager's job has been filled and we will not be sending a baggage man."

Grout did make the trip and still had ten more Tests in front of him, as it turned out, but his apprentice, Jarman, eventually won out and, like Haddin, the man nicknamed "Griz" finished up an old, well-respected veteran, but not a bitter one. And Bradman? When he sat in his office writing the foreword to that book of Grout's, he did so listening to radio descriptions of the wicketkeeper's efforts in the Jamaica Test, wondering aloud whether he was the greatest of his generation.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko

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