With his scruffy appearance, combativeness and a penchant for exchanging words, Matthew Wade is a “fair dinkum Aussie.”
You can picture him on the outback, living the hard life. The 31-year-old Wade, when handed a lifeline during an unforgettable Ashes series, breathed life into this Australian team.
It was not just about his gutsy left-handed batting against Jofra Archer’s extreme pace or his two flamboyant Test hundreds under pressure or his sharp reflex catches close to the wicket.
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Wade brought with him a feisty, typically Australian approach, often getting under the skin of the batsmen with his chatter from short-leg, or verbal duels with the bowlers, without crossing the line.
This was a refreshing change from the Aussie methods against India at home when the side appeared ‘soft’, treading the safe path following Sandpapergate, the effects of which impacted Australia’s attacking approach.
Yet, as Tim Paine’s Aussies retained the Ashes with a 2-2 verdict in a gripping series, Wade’s biggest contribution was in injecting the team with a dose of aggression. The Aussies, sledging on occasions, were their own selves again without employing offensive language.
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And Wade, the orchestrator, was at the centre of it.
He was bound to be targeted by Archer. Wade, though, displayed character, withstanding a spell of brutal pace and venom from Archer during his counterpunching hundred at the Oval.
He was peppered with the short stuff, was struck on the shoulder, but did not flinch. When glared at by Archer, he glared back. Then followed the words. Wade replied in kind.
Wade isn’t the most accomplished of ‘keepers but coach Justin Langer, who comprehends the value of having a vocal fighter in the mix, was spot on with his judgment.
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Keepers as specialist batsmen
These are good days for wicket-keeper batsmen. Many feature in the eleven as specialist batsmen. For instance, England has the spirited Jonny Bairstow donning the gloves and the free-stroking Jos Buttler adding weight to the middle-order. And the West Indies plays the talented Shai Hope as a pure batsman.
Sri Lanka has picked three wicket-keeper batsmen, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella in Test eleven with the last-named wearing the gloves.
The influential Mushfiqur Rahim and the promising Liton Das join hands for Bangladesh.
And the explosive Rishabh Pant and the experienced Dinesh Karthik have featured in the limited-overs side as specialist batsmen.
Factors in favour of ‘keepers surfacing as specialist batsmen include their natural ability to pick the length, read bowlers’ hand, decipher the pitch, bat-speed and strong back-foot play. Wicket-keeper batsmen are generally, good cutters and pullers.
And a street-fighter such as Wade brings that precious pugnacious streak with him.