The first time I saw Matthew Wade keep he was horrible. Truly disgustingly bad. In the schoolyard we would have called him a bit shit.
It was like his gloves were ceramic tiles that had be attached just for the day. At the time I couldn’t work out why Victoria had been talking this kid up.
And kid was the right word, he looked 7.
Victoria’s wicket keepers usually look like angry men who you’d see at the back of dodgy pubs playing cards. Men like Darren Berry or Slug Jordon who could dismiss you with their gloves, chunky thighs or behind the wicket abuse. In my mind the skill of a Victorian keeper had to be judged in soft hands and vicious profanity, it seemed Wade had neither.
At this point it wasn’t clear if Wade had been allowed into a pub.
Wade’s batting was never in question. From the first time I saw Wade bat three things were blatantly obvious. For a tiny little 7 year old, he could really murder the ball. He was a fighter. And he could really bat.
At this stage it hardly mattered. Wade was a young man trying to make his way. Brad Haddin was the national keeper. Luke Ronchi was back up limited overs keeper. Graham Manou was picked for the Ashes back up slot before Tim Paine was Haddin’s unlucky back up. Paine was better with the gloves than Wade, was a solid more reliable batsmen than Wade. With Chris Hartleyaround as well, Wade might have been as far back as 5th in line.
But things changed quickly. Manou was seen as a one series back up (perhaps discriminated against because of the hole in his heart). Ronchi lost form and is now moving to NZ (like he always said he wouldn’t). Hartley could never shake the tag of not being quite good enough with the bat (he’s too good as a keeper for his batting to be seen as good). Paine’s hands have never recovered from facing Dirk Nannes (who can blame him). And now Brad Haddin has a family illness (no brackets here).
You can’t ask for much more luck than this. Not that Wade needs the luck. The player you see now is not the same Wade I saw back at the MCG with ceramic hands and the face of a 7 year old. His wicket keeping is not great, but compared with most international wicket keepers it’s not horrible. Most importantly he’s improving all the time. His face has also changed. Australian wicket keepers have a certain look more often than not. It’s that Marsh, Haddin and Healy face. Grizzled down by a working class life but with a touch of cheekiness to it and vicious squinty eyes. Wade already has that face three Tests in.
Wade looks, walks and plays like a fighter. He’s perpetually scrappy.
Wade also has a Test Century to his name. In only his 3rd Test. Haddin only has three from 43 Tests, and those came in totals of 481, 535 and 674. Wade’s was in a total of 328 when no other batsman had made a hundred. Something else Haddin has never done. It was the sort of Test Century you make in a really good day dream. The team are away from home, they’re struggling, and the big names have disappeared. In this knock showed he could defend, attack and annihilate when it was required. And most importantly that he was reliable when really needed.
According to Michael Clarke, and an ever-decreasing group of Haddin loyalists, Brad Haddin is still the number one choice for Australian Test keeper.
It’s hard to see that when Wade plays like this.
Matthew Wade has overcome cancer, improved his keeping at every opportunity, fights as hard as anyone in the Australian set up and has now shown he can seriously bat. Perhaps he’s not the man just yet, but he’s certainly more than the nervous boy I saw only a few years back.