Patrick Noone looks at how Matthew Wade showed England he’s more than just Australia’s mongrel spirit animal.
Matthew Wade’s latest crack at Test cricket has already been more successful than his previous one. Back in 2016, Wade was one of the beneficiaries of the selectorial carnage that followed Australia being bowled out for 85 by South Africa in Hobart. Incumbent wicketkeeper Peter Nevill was dropped, and Wade was given the gloves, with selector Trevor Hohns not ruling out that one of the reasons for Wade’s callup being to add ‘mongrel’ to a team that was perceived as having a soft centre.
Back then, Wade’s inclusion made little sense from a cricketing point of view. He was averaging 28.25 in the Sheffield Shield, the second lowest of all the regular wicketkeepers in the competition. Modest returns for a batsman of his ability, who already had two Test hundreds to his name from his earlier spell in the Test team in 2012 and 2013, but apparently enough to reclaim the gloves at the highest level.
Wade’s return to the fold lasted ten matches, during which he scored 263 runs in 16 innings. A half century on a tricky pitch in a losing cause in Dharamsala was the highlight, but after three successive single figure scores in Bangladesh, Wade was quietly cast aside in favour of Tim Paine for the 2017-18 Ashes.
Since then, Paine’s ascension to the role of Test captain meant that the door appeared closed to Wade regaining his spot as wicketkeeper batsman, at least for the time being. The only route back to the Test side for Wade was to play as a specialist batsman. Mongrel or not, what he needed were runs.
Largely free of the gloves in the 2018-19 Sheffield Shield season – he kept wicket in just three of Tasmania’s ten matches – Wade had by far his most prolific season against the red ball, plundering 1021 runs, surpassing his next highest tally in a domestic First Class season by 344 runs.
Only Marcus Harris made more runs than him last season, and he was already in the Australia team during their home summer. Wade was the next cab off the rank, the one banging the door down and probably a few more clichés besides. From being picked for spurious, non-cricket reasons, Wade is back in the big time after making a case with the bat that simply couldn’t be ignored any longer.
His innings today began in ominous fashion, from an England point of view. An over-pitched delivery from Joe Denly was driven disdainfully to the cover boundary, the first of 41 balls he would play in that region, the first of seven fours he would lace to the fence in that area of the field. It will have helped to settle any nerves that might have been there after he missed out in the first innings, perhaps provided a sense that yes, he did belong on this stage.
It might seem a strange thing to say about an innings that literally started with a boundary, but Wade’s was a measured century in which he moved through the gears, attacking more and more as it progressed until he resorted to all-out attack in the latter third of his knock. His wicket only fell as a result of him looking to kick on some more; an aggressive lofted pull shot that couldn’t quite clear the man at deep backward square leg.
Sure, with Australia 205-4 and already 115 runs ahead, it was a nice time to come to the crease, but Wade’s contribution dealt England an almighty blow. When he came in to bat, England’s WinViz was still 50%; by the time he was dismissed, it was just 2%.
Steve Smith will rightly take most of the headlines for another astonishing century, his second of the match on his return to the side, but Wade proved himself a more than reliable lieutenant to both his former and his current captain. It was across the course of his partnerships of 126 with Smith and 76 with Paine that England’s thoughts turned from thinking it was a game they could still win to a game that had to try and not lose.
It’s unwise to predict how long Wade’s latest stint in the Test team will last. Even with this hundred under his belt, there is no guarantee that he will be in possession of that Baggy Green for a prolonged period – just ask Joe Burns. There have been a few decisions made by the Australian selectors that have raised a few eyebrows recently, but Wade has done all he can to justify a proper run in the side, both back home in domestic cricket and now in his maiden appearance in an Ashes Test.
The irony is that the attitude Wade demonstrated today is far more valuable to Australia than the fighting spirit, to put it kindly, that was required by earlier regimes. Wade has shown he can add more than just ‘mongrel’ to this Australian setup. Today he demonstrated great temperament, a sharp reading of the match situation and no shortage of skill to help propel Australia towards a Test match win, one cover drive at a time.