In the footsteps of Haddin and Gilchrist
Matthew Wade will emerge from two shadows when he makes his Test debut in Barbados. The first is that of Brad Haddin, Wade's predecessor, waylaid by a serious family matter and unable to don the gloves in the Caribbean. The other is that of Adam Gilchrist, the man who changed the game, and shaped Wade's attitude by redefining how much influence a wicketkeeper could exert on a Test match with the bat as well as the gloves.
It cannot be denied that Wade is his own man, a tough and uncompromising competitor who has fought through plenty of obstacles, traps and snares to reach the baggy green. He has impressed many, first for Victoria and now on tour, with his aggressive attitude and strength of voice, and has demonstrated considerable batting capability in his limited-overs appearances for Australia thus far. But it equally cannot be denied that his performances, both as a cricketer and a man, will be weighed up against those who came before him.
Haddin's absence is much lamented by the Australian touring party, what they have lost summed up by the captain Michael Clarke in his pre-match column this week. "[Wade] is a top quality cricketer who has a big future in the Australian team but it is unfortunate his opportunity will come due to the absence of Brad Haddin for difficult family reasons," Clarke wrote. "Since replacing Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps Brad has become an important member of the team and a leader around the group. I have played cricket with him since I was 18 and it doesn't seem right not having him here. Brad remains our incumbent Test 'keeper and will be welcomed back into the side whenever he is available again."
Wade acknowledges the "difficult" circumstances in which he has emerged as a Test wicketkeeper, and does not wish to covet a permanent spot in case Haddin returns after this series. He is keeping both eyes on the matches ahead of him in the Caribbean, and looking not an inch further.
"It's unfortunate for Brad that he had to go home in a difficult situation," Wade said. "Anyone that gets their chance is getting their chance through an injury or a lack of form. This one is a little bit more serious than bad form, which is disappointing and bad news for Brad and his family but I'll just get out there and do my job.
"I said it in the one day series [in Australia] as well if I thought about who they were picking about three games here, three games there, if I thought too far down the track it was going to hinder my performance, which is exactly what can happen here. I've just got to concentrate on the first day's play to be honest, get the job done Saturday and go from there."
How Wade wishes to get the job done is defined by what he saw of Gilchrist during his younger years. Wade is the first Australian wicketkeeper to have grown up in the era of Gilchrist, and he learned from that example just how pivotal a wicketkeeper can be if his glovework is allied to fearless, aggressive batting. Wade was 12 when Gilchrist made his Test debut against Pakistan at the Gabba in 1999. He was still 12 when Gilchrist combined forces with Justin Langer to deliver an outrageous fourth innings chase in the second match of the series in Hobart. And Wade's first season of first-class cricket, 2007-08, was Gilchrist's last.
This is not to say that Wade will have anything like Gilchrist's unrivalled career, or that he has not learned closely from the examples of others, including Haddin. But it is Gilchrist who Wade watched most closely when he was aspiring to the gloves.
"Gilchrist was obviously the bloke I watched a lot of as a young player, he changed the face of wicketkeeping forever," Wade said. "Most wicketkeepers have to be able to bat pretty well, so Gilchrist was one that I watched a lot."
Entering state cricket five years ago while still a teenager, Wade said it took him time to establish exactly what his methods for success would be. He made a sturdy start, scoring 83 in the first innings and claiming six catches on his Sheffield Shield debut against South Australia. But there were vexing days in ensuing months. Wade's degree of difficulty was compounded by the fact that he had moved from Tasmania to Melbourne in pursuit of a state cap, leaving the comforts of life at home with his parents. In meeting that challenge, Wade furrowed similar ground to numerous players on this tour, including Ed Cowan, Peter Forrest, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon, all of whom relocated to build their careers.
"When I first played first-class cricket, the first 12 months was really tough, obviously not knowing too much about what I needed to do to perform at that level, it was probably 12 months where you really had to sit back and think about how you were going to make it at that level," Wade said. "I think that was probably the toughest time I've had in my career and obviously working through that little period into the last few years has been great.
"I learned a lot about myself as a person moving away from home at a young age. So I think it's a good thing, we've seen a lot of players in the last three or four years move states and do really well with Ed and Peter on these tours, so it's a good thing to get away from your comfort zone and time and really fend for yourself. It was definitely the right choice for me anyway.
"I was living at home with mum and dad so it was straight out [of home to interstate]. I was lucky enough to have my girlfriend in Melbourne, we've been there for the past five or six years which helps a lot, but it was obviously a difficult situation to move away from your family and friends but you find a way to get it done and concentrate on cricket."
The concept of "finding a way" has added resonance in the Caribbean as its slow pitches and inconsistent bounce have given Wade plenty to ponder over the past few weeks. Neither his wicketkeeping nor his batting have been spotless so far, but he feels sure that he has learned plenty from the ODIs and Twenty20s that he can use to his advantage in the Tests.
"I think the one day series opened my eyes up to what I need to do to be able to perform in these conditions," Wade said. "I think Barbados and St Lucia have been really good wickets, more like what we play on, I think it was just the first couple of games in St Vincent that was hard work. If you think about the conditions too much it is only going to play on your mind, you've got to go out there and play the best you can play. I think this wicket's going to play well for us, and I won't be thinking too much about the conditions."
"The pitches here are a bit lower and slower than Australia. You can't hit as freely through the ball, certainly on the pitches we've played so far. You've got to use your hands a bit more - find your one instead of looking for your boundary a little bit more than Australia but nothing out of control, just things you've got to work on mentally more than anything. It's not as easy as driving through the ball as it is in Australia. It's just mentally working out where you're going to get off strike more than anything."
Four years ago Haddin took over from Gilchrist in the West Indies, and now it is Wade's turn. He has looked up to them, and now he wants to live up to them.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here