India v Australia, 2nd ODI, Kochi October 2, 2007

Haddin no longer just a back-up

Brad Haddin's impressive performance in the last two ODIs indicate he's ready to step in when Adam Gilchrist retires



Brad Haddin's unbeaten 87 was his highest score in ODIs © AFP

Brad Haddin was superfluous in Australia's World Cup domination this year as only 13 men were needed to retain the title. Although he didn't play a game in the Caribbean, his two-month tropical holiday showed him that opportunities to break into a champion side cannot be wasted. His unbeaten 87 in Kochi, on the back of a 69 in Bangalore on Saturday, proved he should not be pigeonholed as the squad's back-up wicketkeeper.

Haddin is used to being thrown the gloves on the rare occasions Adam Gilchrist is injured or rested. Before this tour that had meant a smattering of 21 ODIs in seven seasons. He still considers himself a wicketkeeper who can bat a bit, although that's what most people thought of Gilchrist when he made his international entrance.

Those who have watched Haddin demolish state attacks with New South Wales were familiar with the slogs to cow corner and confident drives in his 69-ball innings at Kochi. His instincts are in sync with Australia's attacking game-plan and when he joined Andrew Symonds in the 32nd over he poked around for two overs before dropping to one knee and smashing Harbhajan Singh over midwicket for six.

When Harbhajan switched ends Haddin repeated the punishment first ball with a near-identical six. He was especially strong on the on side, sending a Zaheer Khan slower ball into the second tier over midwicket, on-driving a sweetly-timed four off Sreesanth, and brazenly stepping outside off stump to paddle Zaheer for four to fine leg.

He is certainly no Gilchrist clone but there are similarities - they both like to hit catches into the crowd, they each had a lengthy national apprenticeship and they each made their mark in ODIs in the unfamiliar role of a specialist batsman. When Gilchrist and Ian Healy played in the same side in South Africa in 1996-97 the gloveless Gilchrist spilled catches in the slips and the outfield - Haddin has so far avoided that indignity.

Haddin is certainly no Gilchrist clone but there are similarities - they both like to hit catches into the crowd, they each had a lengthy national apprenticeship and they each made their mark in ODIs in the unfamiliar role of a specialist batsman

Haddin turns 30 this month and has the experience and ability to make the wicket-keeping role his own when Gilchrist retires. In the meantime he can make it difficult for the selectors to drop him when Ricky Ponting returns from a hamstring injury and the pressure moves on to Brad Hodge to hold his spot.

Ponting is not the only one missing from this line-up. Michael Hussey, Nathan Bracken and Shaun Tait will walk straight into the team when they are available, as would Shane Watson if his fitness could be guaranteed. The lengthy list of absences has given Haddin, Hodge, Mitchell Johnson and James Hopes a chance to impress.

Hodge has missed out in India but played some useful cameos at the ICC World Twenty20. Johnson - another tourist who was not used in the World Cup - claimed eight Twenty20 wickets in South Africa and earned new-ball honours at Bangalore and Kochi. On each occasion he made an early breakthrough; last time it was Sachin Tendulkar lbw to a quick inswinger, this time Gautam Gambhir misjudged a ball that jagged back and clipped the top of off stump.

When India were gaining momentum, Hopes - who had belted a useful 37 at Bangalore - removed Yuvraj Singh in his first over. Haddin's 87 not out was his highest ODI score and was the perfect follow-up after Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds built a healthy platform.

Occasionally Australia's fringe players have been found out - February's Chappell-Hadlee Trophy springs to mind - but the depth within the national squad is gradually being explored and developed. Next in line are Adam Voges and Ben Hilfenhaus, who watched from the dressing-room as their team-mates secured an 84-run win at Kochi. They might be superfluous on this trip but their day will come and like Haddin, they need to prove a point when it does.

Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo