Time for the Gloves to be Passed on Again
At the beginning of the Australian summer of 1999, there were pleas from across the nation to allow Ian Healy one last Test series before retiring. As the selectors stood firm, the appeals were reduced to just one last home Test at the Gabba.
It was for a gloveman who had given countless bucketloads of sweat for his country, and who now sported the fingers of an arthritic pensioner due to a career of more than 10 years behind the stumps. The selectors again waved off the request like a stubborn umpire refusing a shout despite the whole team going up as one.
There was national outrage, from the public, players, ex-players, and the great wicketkeeper himself.
All this came about despite the fact that Gilchrist had been one of the top performers on the one-day scene since he moved up the order to open the batting some two years earlier. Heals, on the other hand had not posted a score of over 40 for almost a year, even though he had held his place for tours against Test cricket welterweights like the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
Gilchrist had recently lead Australia to World Cup glory, and his place in the Test side had been a long time coming. In retrospect, it was far too long, but the name Ian Healy had become synonymous with Australian wicketkeeping. He was a larrikin, revered by team mates, and epitomised the hard-working approach that the Australian public expected from their cricketers.
The selectors’ unpopular decision was immediately vindicated, with Gilchrist having a fantastic debut series and never looking back. He went on to play 96 Tests with a batting average of 47.60, including 17 hundreds, and a record of 416 dismissals.
By comparison to Gilchrist’s fillet mignon, Healy’s offerings look like Coles-brand thousand animal snags, as over 119 Tests he averaged 27.39 with the bat, with only four Test hundreds to supplement his 395 dismissals.
His glovework was never doubted, and is what helped him hold his place in the team during lean spells, but then again Gilchrist was no slouch behind the stumps, took 10 catches in a match early in his Test career, and went onto eclipse Healy’s dismissal record despite playing far fewer Tests.
When reflecting on their career numbers, it would be completely understandable that Gilchrist could feel a little hard done by when comparing his number of Tests played with that of his predecessor, and if justice prevailed the numbers should really have been reversed.
Even though the selectors made what many thought to be a heartless decision by denying Healy one last home Test, the truth is the decision to drop him should have been made much earlier given Gilchrist’s sublime one-day form.
We can always look to the future by learning from the past, and one would hope that today’s selectors do not make the same mistakes.
But it isn’t just his form that is a problem for Australia, as he has taken plenty of criticism regarding reckless shot selection and the constant his belief that he can hit his way out of trouble.
Haddin has only held the gloves for four years at Test level, so removing him should not induce the national backlash that occurred after Healy was directed to the nearest possible exit.
Matthew Wade has burst onto the international scene this summer, already posting match-winning scores in the first Twenty20 then tonight in the opening one-day match. He had previously been given two chances in South Africa in the game’s shortest format, but this time around he has truly grasped his opportunities with three back to back cavalier innings. With a better than healthy first class average a tick over 40, coupled with his young age of 24, Wade has every chance to develop into a prosperous cricketer for Australia in all forms of the game.
Let’s hope that the selectors do not make the same mistakes as those that held the job before them, and delay Wade’s Test cricket debut a moment longer.
At least the selectors have signaled their intent by picking him for the Windies tour, but I for one, would like to see him don the baggy green for the first Test in Barbados. He needs as much Test cricket as possible before the challenging series against South Africa and England come around, and has the potential to be every bit the match winner that Adam Gilchrist was.
As for Bradley Haddin, well, it seems there is always a spot in the commentary box for Aussie larrikins. There is little doubt his future lies there.