Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Haddin('t) kept well

As World Cup squads are announced, there's chatter about their composition. MS Dhoni has no backup keeper. Australia have named both Brad Haddin and Tim Paine. Injured players can be replaced at any point (as a host, this should be particularly easy for India), so presumably Paine isn't there simply as a replacement.

Perhaps the tournament is considered long enough for Haddin to need resting even without injury. Perhaps the selectors want to be able to drop him if his keeping isn't up to scratch, although Hauritz is included as the only spinner (to India's three) despite the selectors recently considering other options in that department much more actively. (Not to mention the idea that a second spinner might be more useful than a second keeper.)

Perhaps the double choice is simply a symptom of the insistence that everyone have two strings to their bow, and the expectation is more along the lines that they could play together - neither would be completely out of place as a specialist batsman. Such a situation is hardly new, and I think will be more and more common. In this year's Big Bash, several teams have shown up with two or even three recognised keepers.

This has something to do with the trend towards keepers sealing their spot as batsman, especially explosive ones. There's plenty to think about in that story, but I'm particularly interested in the story of Haddin himself. I can't consider myself an expert, especially since I hardly saw anything of him during four and half years in England, but I've jumped to my own conclusions on him at various times based on more than his international performances, and I'd like to hear from anyone who can say the same.

I first saw Haddin in the the Canberra Comets' short-lived foray into List A cricket (he was a genuine local, while was also clearly a part of the NSW set-up - see what I'm thinking?) He left the Comets when Phil Emery retired, providing him a spot in the NSW lineup, then fairly quickly securing an apparent anointing as the successor to Gilchrist as Australian keeper.

Emery was a good keeper. Gilchrist had had to move west to get a keeper's spot. Haddin's keeping seemed to me be to better than Gilchrist's, and while he may never have been a Healy, he certainly had plenty of experience with Stuart MacGill and other spinners without looking a fool.I have heard it said the pressure to improve his batting to match the new standard set in part by Gilchrist led his keeping to suffer. I'm not sure about that, but his batting was good enough to get him not only the fill-in keeper role, but a match opening the batting with Gilchrist without taking gloves behind the stumps in 2004.

When he did permanently replace Gilchrist, we all saw some pretty poor keeping form. I had the impression this was out of character, and could come up with a few explanations. His performance in the recent Ashes series was much closer to my expectations. For some reason, a selector felt the need to come out in his support, proclaiming him the country's top keeper in all forms of the game. He was then promptly dropped from the T20 team. This isn't necessarily contradictory – this particular choice smells of picking Paine as vice-captain, rather than choosing the team first. His inclusion in the WC squad may also be as much to do with his development as the needs for the tournament, especially if the plan is to rest Haddin.

At my next opportunity to see Haddin, I was considering his keeping as the innings began. The Blues boasted two glovemen in their bash with the sandgropers. I would have had Smith behind the stumps, not as a reflection on Haddin's keeping, but on Smith's fielding away from the stumps. As it turned out, the innings featured the worst display of glovework I've ever seen from Haddin (or perhaps any professional cricketer) in the flesh, and his subsequent perfomances for Australia have not been much better.

Michael Slater suggests that the selectors should be held responsible for Haddin's latest deterioration. That didn't occur to me, but we've seen similar falling away corresponding to the selectors lack of consistency in the spinning department. The selectors make it very easy to blame them.

Now neither Haddin nor Paine are playing in the Big Bash clash tonight, and both are going to the World Cup. But what do you think? When has Hadding kept well, and when haddin't he?