Wade’s Ashes spot almost gone

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Matthew Wade’s Ashes spot hangs by a thread after he conceded a whopping 30 byes and failed with the bat in the first Test against Bangladesh. But Australia’s wicket keeping stocks are worryingly low, with no strong alternative.

    There are only two realistic options to replace Wade – one who already had a long Test stint and couldn’t handle the step up to international cricket, and the other an inexperienced cricketer who wasn’t even his State’s first-choice gloveman 18 months ago.

    The former is New South Wales veteran Peter Nevill, who performed poorly during his recent 17-Test stint and will be 32 years old by the time the Ashes starts.

    The latter is 26-year-old South Australian Alex Carey, who broke the Sheffield Shield record for most dismissals last year, but only averages 26 with the bat in first-class cricket and has limited experience with just 18 matches to his name.

    Neither are particularly attractive Test prospects at this stage. The fact that Wade is the incumbent Test keeper, and his two main rivals are not exactly world-class, highlights the poor quality of Australia’s keeping stocks.

    Compare that to England, whose keeper Jonny Bairstow has improved his glovework considerably while also piling up almost 2,000 runs at an average of 51 in his past 24 Tests. Or Australia’s next Test foe after the Ashes, South Africa, who boast one of the most valuable players in Test cricket in keeper-batsman Quentin de Kock, a superstar with a career batting average of 45.

    Meanwhile, Wade is under enormous pressure, having received fierce backlash from Australian fans and media after his calamitous performance during the first Test loss in Dhaka. As a comparison, Wade’s 30 byes in that Test were almost double the 17 byes Nevill conceded across the entire three-Test series in Sri Lanka last year.

    Matthew Wade keeping

    (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

    It must be pointed out, however, that the Dhaka pitch, with its very uneven turn and bounce, was more difficult for keeping than any of the surfaces in Sri Lanka. So much so that even Bangladesh’s veteran wicketkeeper and captain Mushfiqur Rahim conceded a mammoth 22 byes.

    And while Nevill only conceded 17 byes in Sri Lanka, he did miss four clear-cut chances across the series and was woeful with the bat, averaging just eight from his six innings. Nevill entered the Test arena with a reputation in domestic circles as having the second-best glovework in the country after Queensland’s Chris Hartley.

    Yet his keeping, overall, was only satisfactory rather than outstanding across his Test stint. In that way, Nevill’s glovework could not make up for his insufficient input with the bat, as he averaged just 22 with a highest score of 66.

    It seemed to be this lack of runs which cost Nevill his Test spot when he was replaced by Wade for the third Test against South Africa last summer. Wade has since been similarly poor with the blade, making 155 runs at 21. The 29-year-old Tasmanian did have a good tour of India earlier this year, where he kept quite neatly and averaged 33 with the bat.

    That likely won’t save him though if he has another substandard Test next week in Bangladesh, especially if Australia go on to lose this series 2-0. In such a scenario, Nevill and Carey would surge into contention for the Ashes.

    WA’s Sam Whiteman has long loomed as Australia’s best long-term Test keeping option, but he looks set to miss most or even all of the home summer due to yet another finger injury.

    Carey now is the only young keeper with the requisite experience and form to enter Test calculations. The Redbacks keeper last summer became just the fourth player in Shield history to pass 500 runs and 50 catches in a season en route to breaking the all-time dismissals record with 59.

    As I wrote in June, Carey appeared as though he might have leapfrogged Nevill in the Test pecking order when he was named as the Australia A wicketkeeper for their July tour of South Africa.

    That tour was cancelled due to the pay dispute, robbing Carey of a golden chance to press his case for Ashes selection. This has placed extra importance on the first two rounds of the Sheffield Shield (to be played before the Ashes), which could potentially turn into a shootout between Nevill and Carey, should Wade struggle again next week.

    First Australia need to avoid a 2-0 series loss in Bangladesh and, if they are to do so, they will need a lift from Wade.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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