Though Monday's game against West Indies ended in defeat, it was an important outing for Brad Haddin, who scored his first half-century for Australia, helping Michael Hussey resuscitate the innings with a breathtaking 165-run partnership that gave the bowlers a competitive total to defend. Haddin's 70 spanned just 77 balls, and included four big sixes as Australia cut loose in the final overs.
Talking to the media the morning after, Haddin was full of praise for Hussey, who scored a scintillating century in his first outing as Australian captain. "It doesn't feel like there's much pressure on you when you're out there with Mike, he just simplifies things and they seem to flow from there," he said. "He's very good at working out where we need to be in 10 overs and how to get there, so it makes my job a lot easier."
Haddin was non-committal when asked whether he'd prefer to bat higher up the order, like Adam Gilchrist. "I'm not too fussed where I bat, I've batted many different spots with the state side, and with this team I fit in at seven at the moment," he said. "My number one job is to keep wicket. The opportunities to bat, I take those wherever I can whether it be from one to 11. I'm just enjoying having an extended run."
Despite his and Hussey's heroics, West Indies won yesterday's match with 16 balls to spare, but Haddin refused to be too critical of his bowlers. "We were pretty happy with our total but I think we just came across two pretty good players [Lara and Gayle] last night. We knew if we got one of those guys early and exposed that middle order a little earlier, it could've been a different story."
The man to suffer most of Stuart Clark, pummelled for 87 from his seven overs, but Haddin, like Hussey earlier, was confident that the bowler would emerge stronger from the ordeal. "I think last night was Stuart's first proper run in five months. The last game he came in, he was only able to bowl one over due to the rain, so I don't think you need to read too much into his spell. He's a quality bowler and I think he'll be better for the hit out."
Dan Cullen's spell also caught his eye, despite the fact that he got some tap from Lara. "That was the first real chance we've had to see Dan in this competition, due to rain and rotations, and he bowled well last night. He was up against two quality players and he handled himself well. I think it was pretty obvious that Brian was trying to upset Dan a little. Dan's new to international cricket, as I am, so they're going to test him out, see what he's made of and see how he reacts. I thought he did a wonderful job in his first real bowl on tour."
His place behind the stumps also gave him the perfect view on Saturday night, when Mitchell Johnson ripped through India's top order in an inspired burst before the heavens opened. "Mitchell's spell against the Indians the other night was outstanding," he said. "I think he'd been building up for that for a couple of games, he'd been training well and the game before he started to get the ball through quite nicely."
After the defeat against West Indies, Australia find themselves needing to win the final league game against India to be absolutely sure of making the final. Haddin was insistent, however, that the rotation policy employed for this series hadn't impacted on Australia's chances. "If we hadn't have experimented with the other players, you guys would never have seen Mitchell Johnson, and it wouldn't have given you a chance to ask questions about him. It's a good opportunity to see different players."
He refused to look too far ahead when asked to contemplate his own future. "I haven't thought too much about it," he said, when asked whether the possibility of Gilchrist retiring after the World Cup had crossed his mind. "I thought a bit about it a few years back and it probably affected my performance. Now, I just concentrate on doing what works for me, and if the opportunity arises, then so be it. I do everything I can to prepare to play cricket for New South Wales or Australia, and if I spend too much time worrying about what Adam's doing, it'll affect my performance."
He also shied away from any direct comparisons with the likes of Gilchrist and India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "I haven't been lucky enough to see much of Dhoni, and we all know what Adam can do," he said. "Adam sort of changed the way wicketkeepers are perceived. You've got to be able to contribute with the bat, and I think a lot of that need for allround ability has come down to Adam."
If Monday's accomplished innings was any indicator, then Australia won't have to look too far for a competent replacement when Gilchrist does decide to step away from the limelight. After several years in the apprentice's role, Haddin appears ready and keen for bigger challenges.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo