Wade ready to grab his chances
The planets are aligning for Matthew Wade. Despite being Victoria's Sheffield Shield wicketkeeper last summer, Wade remained behind Adam Crosthwaite in the Twenty20 pecking order but Crosthwaite's post-season move to Sydney means the gloves have been tossed to Wade for the upcoming US$6 million Champions League in India.
And then there's the wider picture. After a decade in which the national selectors rarely needed to look beyond Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin, the Australians have used five wicketkeepers in 2009 alone. Graham Manou played the Edgbaston Test when Haddin was injured, Chris Hartley filled in during an Ashes tour match, Tim Paine is now the backup for ODIs and Luke Ronchi took the gloves in a Twenty20 in January.
There is no better time to be a young Australian wicketkeeper, as Paine discovered when he was plucked from Tasmania to replace Haddin for the one-dayers in England and the Champions Trophy. As an excellent batsman and improving gloveman Wade, 21, knows there could be chances for national representation sooner than expected, particularly now that he is Victoria's wicketkeeper in all forms of the game.
"I was no chance of getting picked for the Champions Trophy over there, purely because of the fact that I wasn't playing one-day cricket as a keeper," Wade said. "You have to be playing all three forms of the game if you want to play for Australia.
"They've picked Painey, which is fine with me, he's a very good one-day player and four-day player, and he's got the runs on the board in all three forms. If I keep doing the right things in domestic cricket and try to put some scores together in one-day cricket, and obviously get a few in this tournament in India and you never ever know."
Wade's 2008-09 form certainly suggests he will be in contention for future top-level vacancies. He scored 545 Sheffield Shield runs at 49.54 - fourth on Victoria's list of averages for the summer - and led the competition's glovemen with a Victorian record 57 dismissals.
That form prompted Crosthwaite, the first-choice in 50-over and Twenty20 cricket, to surmise that his opportunities at Victoria would remain limited, so he headed north to try his luck in Sydney. Wade's success has justified two decisions he made early in his career: to give up Australian Rules football - he played for Tasmania in the VFL and was a potential AFL draftee - and to move to Victoria at 19.
"I love keeping. The reason I came to Victoria was to be a keeper. I could have stayed in Tassie and played as a bat. I see my future as being a keeper and Victoria do, hopefully, too," Wade said. "I was pretty happy with my glovework last year. I think from the season before it improved a lot. If I can keep improving a little bit each year I'll be very happy. It's the best I've kept for a while."
He will be seriously tested when he has to keep to Muttiah Muralitharan, one of Victoria's two overseas signings, for next season's Twenty20. But first on the agenda is the Champions League, where Victoria and New South Wales will be the two Australian teams in a 12-side competition.
One of the most fascinating stories of the competition will concern Wade's Victoria team-mate Dirk Nannes, who will play with his IPL team Delhi Daredevils rather than the Bushrangers. Victoria's first game is against Delhi, but Wade predicted Nannes would be given a friendly reception by his state colleagues.
"It's Twenty20 stuff, I'm not sure if you get too much time to have a little sledge out there," Wade said. "I think it'll be pretty good spirits out there. We're out there to do a job and so is he now for Delhi. There won't be too much I wouldn't have thought."
Victoria begin their preparations for the Champions League with some practice matches against New South Wales and Tasmania in Lismore in the coming weeks, before flying out in early October. All 12 teams have named preliminary squads and must trim their groups to 15 by Monday.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo