A strange question was being considered quietly around the Australia team this week: what if both Brad Haddin and Graham Manou couldn't play? Haddin, the No. 1 wicketkeeper, broke his left ring finger in the last minutes before the third Test began last week, allowing a surprising and frenetic debut for Manou, who ended the match with a throbbing and expanding right hand.

Manou was struck by a Stuart Broad short ball late in the draw and since the team arrived in Leeds, puddles of water have been pooling on the hotel carpet wherever the wicketkeepers go with their bags of ice. For a couple of days there was the possibility that both glovemen could have been unfit for the vital fourth Test, an event which would have frightened Michael Hussey and Phillip Hughes, who might have been asked to stand in. It was even understandable if the coach Tim Nielsen, a former wicketkeeper who appeared in 101 first-class games for South Australia during the Ian Healy era, daydreamed about stepping in.

It's now the day before the Test and there is no doubt that one of Australia's specialists will be ready. Haddin, the first choice for his free-hitting batting, will come in if he can convince himself that he can stop everything without snapping the tip of the finger further during a contest that could determine who holds the Ashes. Manou, the understudy, is comfortably the better gloveman but is a tailender in comparison with Haddin's run-making ability.

The decision over whether Manou appears in his second Test is out of his hands. "Mine will be fine, it's just a matter of whether Brad's is right," Manou said of the injuries. Haddin batted and caught at training on Wednesday while Manou had the day off, telling the swelling in his hand to ease.

Wicketkeepers are reluctant to admit pain because it puts their position in doubt. "We'll tell you we're tough," Manou said and then laughed when asked whether he was being totally truthful about the situation. He insisted he was.

Haddin spent most of his debut Test in the West Indies last year carrying a broken finger and then refused to go home until the three matches were over. Having waited years for Adam Gilchrist's career to end, Haddin was not going to let a disfigured digit upset him.

So a bruised hand won't stop Manou if Jamie Cox, the selector on duty, taps him on the shoulder again. "I copped a nasty one off Broad and have had an x-ray but there's no break," Manou said. "There's bad inflammation on my whole hand, but it should be fine if I need to play."

He's in a delicate situation, not wanting to be seen coveting Haddin's role when it's all he wants. After Haddin's fumbling performances with the gloves in the opening two Tests, Manou's effort in Birmingham was like watching a display from a couple of decades ago.

Manou is a real wicketkeeper, cushioning the arriving ball with a long length of catch, first meeting it then guiding it to stop as his hands retreat behind his body. Occasionally during the series, Haddin has not bothered with deliveries down the legside and they have scooted for four byes. It is not a good look and it bothers the bowlers.

At Edgbaston Manou had only 93.3 overs to keep, but when the direction of the fast men slipped the balls of his feet tapped and skipped to make the interception. If necessary he would leap to stop the delivery and at times he seemed to be stepping in slow motion.

There were three clean catches, but it was the tidiness of his work to balls not attracting edges that really stood out. He was unhappy to have given up two byes when he messed up one legside take. It was his only real mistake.

At Lord's Haddin gave up 31 extras when troubled by the late swerve past the batsmen, and there were another 22 in Cardiff. Fortunately for Haddin he was able to wipe out those marks easily with scores of 121, 28 and 80, leaving Manou to rely on his team-mate's misfortune for a promotion.

"Waiting is all part of the job, unfortunately," Manou said. "It's a vulnerable position because you're the only one in the side, so you can play through some pretty painful things."

Manou knows about living with discomfort after being diagnosed with a hole in his heart as a child. Now 30, he is a committed cyclist and was supposed to be hosting a charity ride between Perth and Adelaide in May, but delayed it when there was a chance he could be an Ashes tourist. Currently he hopes to complete the Tour de Heart at the end of Australia's domestic season, a move dependent on where he sits in the national pecking order.

One of his few regrets on this trip is he has not been able to watch more of the Tour de France and follow the performances of Stuart O'Grady, his fellow South Australian. "I really enjoy riding back home," he said. "It takes a lot of impact off your knees, and is a way to travel and see the world go by, while having your own space."

Manou is the state captain at South Australia and it is the place where he has his own spot. If Haddin needs surgery on his finger it may allow Manou some one-day games in the Champions Trophy or the India tour, but nothing is certain for reserve wicketkeepers.

"I was very fortunate to get a game," he said. "If it's only one, then so be it. Brad waited a long time for his chance and deserves to be there. It certainly gave me a small taste."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo