In all of the debates about Australian cricket selections lately, one almost constant has been the criticism of Brad Haddin, with calls for him to be dropped forthwith based on his poor keeping and batting.
Feeling contrary, I thought I’d play devil’s advocate for Haddin, at least as regards his batting. I don’t have the expertise to comment on his keeping (beyond acknowledging that he’s dropped the odd catch) or to make meaningful assessments of the relative keeping abilities of his potential replacements.
First a quick look at those replacements. If Tim Paine wasn’t injured, he might be in the side already. He did well in two tests against Pakistan, and very well in two against India when Haddin was injured in 2010.
Batting, he averages more in Tests (36) than at first-class level (32), the sort of thing selectors like. He’s also looked the part in one-day internationals. However, he’s been injured long enough that you would think he’d have to demonstrate form and fitness before being in line for selection again.
Matthew Wade has been a strong performer for Victoria for several years and is only 24. He’s played 20/20 for Australia, and has batted well in both Shield finals that he’s played, which probably counts with selectors. He averages about the same as Haddin in first class cricket (just under 42).
Peter Nevill is a year or so older than Wade, but has only played one full first-class season (last year). He did well if not spectacularly then, but has made a lot of runs for New South Wales in the first half of this season – a cynic might say that’s usually enough to put someone at the head of the queue when it comes to Australian selection.
He has an eye-catching first-class average of 49, though a measured outlook would say it’s too early to tell how representative that is.
So, to Haddin’s Test batting. The current standard characterisation would be that Haddin is an under-performer who doesn’t value his wicket. Let me just mention in passing that one of the problems with batting where Haddin does is that on a very good wicket you may not get much of a hit (or get one at all), whereas on the more difficult ones, suddenly everyone looks to you to save the day, often while batting with tailenders.
Batting with tailenders you can be on a hiding to nothing. If you take the singles rather than swinging the bat, and the tailender gets out, people ask why you didn’t look for runs yourself? If you try to find the boundary and get out, then you apparently don’t value your wicket or trust your teammates. Those factors have come into play from time to time recently for Haddin.
It’s forgotten or glossed over that amidst the carnage of last year’s Ashes series (yes, just 12 months ago) Haddin managed 360 runs at 45, with a hundred and three fifties from nine innings. That’s not earth shattering, but realistically it is a very solid return for a keeper.
Up to the end of that series, Haddin had played 10 series for successive averages (rounded) of 30, 27, 64, 45, 33, 46, 74, 14, 35 and 45, and an overall average just under 40. You could say that’s not Adam Gilchrist, but while that’s accurate, I’m not sure it’s meaningful. There haven’t been a lot of Gilchrists.
So if we’re criticising Haddin’s batting, it has to be largely based on performance in the 10 Tests since the Ashes. That period has been unproductive (to put it kindly – 15 innings, 299 runs, average a shade under 20), and has seen his overall Test average drop to just under 35. However, if we drill down a bit, maybe it’s not as open and shut as it appears.
Three tests against Sri Lanka started the sequence. In the first test on a track with a lot of turn he made 24, giving important support to Mike Hussey, the only batsman apart from Ricky Ponting to get as far as 30. A second-innings duck never looks good, but anyone can get out cheaply to the spinning ball.
Getting 1 in his only innings in the second Test looks bad – except that by the time he batted, Australia was very close to declaring and was looking for a few quick runs. Haddin got out swinging, without having had time to play himself in. In the circumstances, that’s how it goes.
In the third Test he got 35 and 30. Nice if he could have gone on with it, but they were important runs in the first innings with Australia a shaky 5-190 when he came in, and he saw Australia to very clear safety from defeat in the second innings. So while he had a series average of only 18, he actually mostly did a job for the team.
On to South Africa, and the first Test is one he’d like to forget batting-wise – 5 and 0, with the Cricinfo commentary using the unflattering descriptions “rather ambitious drive” and “bizarre shot”.
He was roundly criticised for the second innings shot in particular (it took the score to 6-18 after all), and fair enough too, even if it wasn’t his fault everyone else was getting out. In the second Test he at least got out a bit more legitimately in the first innings, lbw to the spinner for 16, but it was still a very poor series to that point, with no redeeming feature.
Yet in the second innings run chase for 310, he managed 55, coming in at 5-165. He batted reasonably solidly with Hussey, then aggressively with Mitchell Johnson before getting out at 7-287 attacking the new ball (the policy they’d obviously adopted).
Sure, much better if he hadn’t got out at that point, and if he’d taken them through to the win, but how about some credit for being a big part in taking them from very probably losing to being close to winning. My guess is an innings like that in those circumstances buys you some credit.
And he continued that against New Zealand – again he gets criticised for an expansive get out shot on 80 in the first Test. I think it’s more even-handed to point out he came in at 5-237 (still nearly 60 behind) with a long tail behind him (2 of whom were on debut). He left with a solid lead in the bag at 9-418, playing a shot with one of those debutantes (Mitchell Starc) batting and only Nathan Lyon to come. I find that hard to get too annoyed about.
Again, he did his advocates no favours in the second Test. In Australia’s poor first innings he fitted right in with 5, driving to mid off. In the second innings Australia having looked on track for 241, slumped to 5-159. He contributed to arresting that to some extent, making 15 and seeing the score to 192, but still got out (an edge to first slip) when more were needed.
Despite that, I think a not outlandish summary of those three series would be that Haddin did alright against Sri Lanka, then against both South Africa and Sri Lanka, produced one very good innings and one bad match when runs were needed against good bowling. It may be that selectors look at, and reward, the demonstrated ability to play a good knock more than they punish failures.
Finally, we come to the Indian series. First innings, first Test, 27. A start, at most. However, somewhat similarly to the first Sri Lankan Test, you can point out he came in at a shaky 5-205, outlasted the sole surviving batsman (Cowan) and was out to what Cricinfo described as a “gem from Zaheer” with his side at a better looking 7-286. Not a sacking offence.
6 in the second innings and out to a “feeble poke”, with Australia again needing quite a few more than their then 6-148 to feel confident. But no-one succeeds all the time. He didn’t get a hit in Sydney, and compounded things with 0 in Perth. At least that wasn’t a wild shot, and was when Australia already had a solid first innings lead (an attitude a few of them seemed to have fallen into).
To me, this isn’t so much a case of inept or negligent batting, as a lack of opportunity compounded by a good ball or two. Not great coming on top of three up-and-down series, but I can see the selectors thinking that that can happen to anyone, and that he’s done good things for us in the recent past.
In that case, they might argue, he’s worth persevering with. Perhaps not a view common on The Roar.