When Brad Haddin donned the Baggy Green for the first time, in the West Indies 2008, he faced the unenviable job of stepping into a position left vacant by a player that had redefined the term keeper/ batsman. The havoc that Adam Gilchrist wreaked on bowling attacks all around the world was always going to be impossible to recreate; a point that Haddin was always keen to impress on journalists in the lead up to his debut. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that Haddin’s credentials as a hard hitting top order bat, with probably one of the sweetest straight drives in world cricket, were already set; having carved out a reputation as an impressive opening bat in the Australian domestic one day competition and averaging well over fifty, for four straight Sheffield Shield seasons, leading up to his international call up. Many assumed that Haddin’s aggressive stroke play and solid, if unspectacular glove work, would be the perfect antidote to an Australian test side sans Gilchrist.
But Haddin has failed to capture the imagination of the Australian public; the likes of Gilchrist and his explosive batting, Ian Healy with superior work behind the stumps and the “I could have a drink with him” persona of Rod Marsh all are looked upon more favourably than Haddin who is faced with being remembered as the “bloke that came after Gilly.” Critics will point out an inability to turn starts into bigger scores; a return of just eight fifties and three hundreds in a test career spanning thirty five tests seen as insufficient thanks to the lofty standards set by his predecessor. Criticism has also gathered around his glove work, a record 39 byes against India in 2008, on a difficult track in Bangalore, giving many around the country reason to doubt the New South Welshman’s ability to keep up to the stumps to spin. Technical flaws, such as a tendency to reach out and grab for the ball when standing up, resulted in Haddin’s receiving of the ball to appear stiff, a flaw that ensures hard hands and leads to balls popping out of the gloves.
However Haddin’s recent form behind the stumps indicates to me that adjustments have been made; his work in keeping up to both medium pacerNathan Copeland and spinner Nathan Lyon, in the recently completed tour of Sri Lanka, was first rate. Just the one bye in 144 overs of work on adry dusty Galle pitch, in the first test, a testament to the work that Haddin has put into his keeping as he looks to shape his future in the side instead of having it shaped for him. However a test keeper can no longer rely solely on what he brings to the side in the field; it is with the bat that long term positions are cemented. Haddin’s exploits for New South Wales had filled the selectors thoughts with dreams of a like for like replacement for Gilchrist; and at times he has lived up to the expectations. Opening regularly for Australia in the shorter form of the game and a return of close to 2000 test runs at the number 7 position is nothing to be sneezed at. His record against England is particularly impressive; a shining light for the Australian’s in a losing effort, last Summer, as he compiled 360 runs at an average of 45.00, including 3 half centuries and a First Test century at the Gabba. However recent form with the bat has been less than stellar with Haddin failing to pass fifty in 2011 with an average of just 18.00. His signature drive has been the problem child of late; playing away from his body and foregoing the footwork needed to bring his head over the ball costing him; as catches behind the wicket and in the mid off to cover region have dominated his mode of dismissal throughout the year.
The Australian Summer of 2011/2012 will be a pivotal season in the career of Brad Haddin; if he is to retain his spot as wicket keeper of the Test side he must make significant contributions with both bat and behind the wicket. It seems to me that an Indian bowling attack, which got flogged to all corners of England in their recent series, is a perfect opportunity for a fruitful season and a chance to put to rest any talk of change behind the stumps. But with heir apparent, Tasmanian Tim Paine, already showing in his limited chances that he will not be overawed and the rising reputation of Victorian Matthew Wade and the technician like glove work of Queensland’s Chris Hartley ready to step in at any slip up the time has come for Haddin to rise to the challenges thrown down by those competing for his spot and shape his reputation with a still unconvinced Australian public.