The Ashes 2013-14 November 20, 2013

Brad Haddin's well played fifty

Family illness might have swept Brad Haddin away from cricket altogether, but he has returned to Brisbane in search of the Ashes win that has always eluded him

Brad Haddin looks out across the Gabba with the hunger of a desert traveller happening upon an oasis. The first Ashes Test is also his 50th and his first at home in near enough to two years.

There is a streetwise manner to Haddin that conveys his age and his awareness - at 36 he is old enough to have been playing for Australia at a time when defeat was unthinkable. But surveying the home of summer's first Test, all verdant turf and sunshine, he is happy to lapse into the lyrical.

"Matthew Hayden always used to say there's no better place to be than the first Test of an Australian summer at the Gabba," Haddin told ESPNcricinfo. "The excitement about it is just massive and that's how I feel leading into this."

Usually such lines can be ignored as mere hyperbole but in Haddin's case the journey back to Brisbane has given them plenty of meaning. For six horrible months in 2012 he cared not a bit for cricket, as he sat at the hospital bedside of his seriously ill daughter, Mia. Haddin was in the West Indies when word reached him of her worsening condition; he flew home immediately and would not countenance another day in the game until she began to stabilise.

Even after returning to play for New South Wales, he spent as much time with Mia in hospital as he did on the field, sleeping by her side more than once during domestic fixtures with the Blues. Eighteen months on from the episode, Haddin still baulks at speaking about it, but is happy to admit the milestone of 50 Tests has been made richer by the personal battles he fought along the way to get there.

"I've always said I never doubted I could come back to this level, and if I did have any doubts about it I wouldn't have come back to play," Haddin said. "Circumstances allowed me to come back to cricket and I never had any doubt I'd be back here.

"I still think my best cricket's in front of me - if I didn't think it was I wouldn't have pushed to come back. Personal milestones are something you think about more as your time's done, but I'm proud of that. It's been a big 18 months for myself and my family, so it's going to be an exciting day."

Haddin's return to the Australian team was no easy road either. His batting and wicketkeeping form had been ebbing away before the short-lived visit to the Caribbean, and remedial work on both took place as he established himself once more with New South Wales. The incumbent Matthew Wade was doing well against South Africa and Sri Lanka, though his errors behind the stumps left a slight avenue open to the older man. That avenue became wider with the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, and the weight of experience they took with them.

Even so, Haddin was not called up for the fateful tour of India earlier this year, biding his time at home until the call came to fly over as injury cover on what had become an increasingly dysfunctional traipse across the subcontinent. Haddin flew into a team riven by the decision to suspend four players in Mohali. When Wade's ankle injury necessitated another change to the team, Haddin kept wicket neatly in the third Test, while in the evenings younger players gravitated towards him, a figure of honesty and perspective but also humour.

The Indian crucible showed the team still needed a senior man like Haddin, irrespective of longer-term plans for Wade to retain the gloves. He was reinstated for the Ashes, not only as wicketkeeper but also vice-captain. In England his role covered the numerous facets required of a strong deputy, from tactical assistance for Michael Clarke on the field and in the team room, to off-field responsibility for keeping team-mates relaxed and grounded.

"I think we're a pretty good mix. I don't want his job I can tell you that," Haddin said of Clarke. "I feel now the role I have in the Test team coming back from England and now, I feel you can put your mark more on this group and I'm enjoying that role. I have no intentions about trying to become a captain; I'm comfortable with my role as vice-captain and helping the team in that way."

Having been through what he had with Mia, the tense insularity of the team he re-joined was anathema to Haddin, and he set about rekindling the sorts of constructive relationships and attitudes that define strong teams almost as much as on-field success. On plenty of occasions during the Ashes tour, Haddin could be found guiding younger players, including David Warner, Steven Smith, Nathan Lyon and even Clarke, who learned much from Haddin's earlier freewheeling stints as captain of New South Wales.

Haddin does not suffer fools, though he has found time for rascals. His support of Warner through a year of tribulations, many of them self-inflicted, has demonstrated a rare degree of care and attention for a player who may yet prove critical to Australia's Ashes chances. Though uneasy about suggestions of keeping watch over Warner by day and by night, Haddin is happy to quantify the value he sees in a man so nearly sent home from England.

"I don't think David needs anymore looking after than anyone else in the team," Haddin said. "But he's a fierce competitor out there and we're a better team for having him around. He brings that passion for winning cricket games. He's great for our group and rascals win you comps as well. They're not scared; they enjoy the game and enjoy competing.

"Off-field is a massive part of being vice-captain, the stuff out on the field is the easy stuff. Behind the scenes you're making sure your group's got a smile on their face, they're not worrying about things they don't need to worry about and they're just enjoying the game of cricket. You're looking after your mates, and that's a big role of the vice-captain, to make sure come game day there's no baggage and we just get out there and play the game for what it is."

The battle for the Ashes will define the careers of many players, not least Haddin himself. Contests with England have drawn out Haddin's best, from a century at Cardiff in 2009 and Brisbane the following year, to a memorable bid for victory at Trent Bridge five months ago and the record for most dismissals in a series. He winces when reminded that Brisbane means he will have played 50 Tests without once being part of a winning Ashes team, as telling a statistic about Australia's recent years of decline as any other.

"It does make the goal pretty clear," he said. "Ashes campaigns are great to play in and I've been privileged enough to play in three of them now. The hype and theatre is outstanding, and this one's no different. It's a good feeling; it's a lot more settled than it was last time going to England.

"We can talk about saying we got close and we played better cricket in that series, more a brand of cricket we wanted to moving forward in the series, but the bottom line is England won 3-0, and we've got to come out here on our home soil and find ways to up the ante in our game and compete for longer periods to turn that result around."

As for how Australia can get there, Haddin proposes a simple method and attitude for each member of the Australian team: prepare thoroughly, do your job, and show as much joy in the success of others as your own.

"You can overcomplicate it and use fancy words and analyse things too much, but everyone's got to do their job," Haddin said. "Guys will have good days, guys will get hundreds or five-fors, but you've got to enjoy the moments when your team-mates do well. Your turn will come around and you've got to enjoy the success of your mates in your own hard times. Do your job and create that environment that allows you to enjoy the success you have."

Given the trials, trips and snares Haddin has encountered on the way to the Gabba, few could possibly begrudge him and his family a belated Ashes triumph.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2013, 9:19 GMT

    This comment may seem irrelevant from a cricketing perspective, but truly shows the character and personality of Brad Haddin- for the legend and great man that he is. My family and I viewed an ING cup game about 10 years ago in which Haddin played. Being eager young cricket fans, as we walked back to our car after the match, we bumped into Hadds as he wheeled his kit- obviously in quite a rush to get home after a tiring day. We asked for his autograph, and even though he was in a rush, and though he looked extremely eager to get home, he was only too happy to oblige to 3 young fans. Take a bow Hadds, you are a true gentleman.

  • W on November 22, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Haddin showed again that he is a great player. His opposite number registered yet another 0, becoming more predictable than some comments here. I like a Prior, he bats with intent but he has been out of form for over a year. Root failed (again, for the 10th time in 11 test innings). We dropped him on 8 at Lords to create the illusion he is up to test standard. The rest, well, cricket fans had been predicting it for weeks. I mean the match is far from over, let alone the series and England are a quality side despite carrying a number of poor players. I can't think of a better leader than Flower but the illusion that England could win this in their sleep, that's over. Keep knocking Johnson too, we said if he fires he will be unplayable

  • Tom on November 22, 2013, 2:21 GMT

    Haddin has always performed well against England. Don't expect any less this time around.

  • Paulo on November 21, 2013, 19:06 GMT

    A top player. I remember in 09, where he struggled keeping wise but scored some runs- remember the Lord's test for example, or Cardiff. He was excellent in 2010-11 batting and his keeping last series was a phenomenal effort at his age. Well played today. Haddin does for Australia what Prior does so often for England- goes unnoticed behind the stumps, and saves matches in front of them.

  • Prasanna on November 21, 2013, 16:10 GMT

    Hadds, wish you take the score to around 350+ - we have none other than Rhino at the other end who always gives it all. Go Hadds !!

  • Cameron on November 21, 2013, 15:10 GMT

    @Ramsespd, @Millhouse, @Front-Foot-Lunge, you have been silenced. Go now quietly, read up on the game and come back when you have something useful to contribute. Haddin is a very good player and showed it again today. Australia are hardly out of the match, it's not ideal but it is a decent position and England again showed through Cook's captaincy they are happy to let a team back in after being in a dominant position. I mean is it our tail's fault or your bowlers that you constantly allow hundreds of lower order runs? I think what was good that my theory that England only had 2 bowlers was wrong, they only have one.

  • Hamish on November 21, 2013, 13:05 GMT

    Lol @milhouse79, you really a positive little fella aren't ya? The Ashes sure do bring out the best in some people!

    @FFL, feel like looking up the stats between Haddin and Swann. If I had a dollar for every time Haddin has carted Swann... Oh and Prior averaged 19 last Ashes and didn't get the world keeping record :)

    Agree with @Ken Mcarron, although in the Ashes he at times did throw his wickets away because he was 'hitting out' for the team to up the scoring rates. His poor average was too low because of such, and doesn't really reflect how he batted. The TB innings was memorable despite being on the losing side and if I'm not mistaken he also scored another half-century. He batted very well, and importantly, for us today. But more importantly, his much improved keeping has made sure that no matter how many runs Matthew Wade could possibly make, Haddin will always be the better option.

  • James on November 21, 2013, 12:24 GMT

    @C.Gull: Oracle mate, oracle haha. Haddin is a supreme competitor, as @Eight8 alludes to,,especially in ashes battles, he is always there.

  • Sacha on November 21, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    @ Front-Foot-Lunge: is that the same opposite number (Prior) who was totally outperformed in both batting and keeping by Haddin in the last Ashes series on his home soil??

    And is that the same Swann who was carted around the ground by Haddin today and finished wicketless??

  • Scott on November 21, 2013, 11:57 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge - odd then that Haddin's Ashes records are far superior to that of Prior's...

  • No featured comments at the moment.