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Warner's absence pinches Aus, Wade pitch-forked into opener's role

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Melbourne, Dec 28 (IANS) An injury to regular Australia opener David Warner and lack of in-form genuine openers pitch-forked Matthew Wade, a specialist wicket-keeper, into an opener’s slot for the ongoing Test series against India — with mixed results. In three innings against India, Wade has managed a grand total of 111 runs in four innings of the two Tests.

Wade, 33, is surely a temporary arrangement and once Warner gets match fit he would walk into the XI, replacing him.

Australia have been playing Wade as a specialist middle order batsman while Tim Paine, who is now captain as well, keeping wickets.

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Wade also opened the innings in the recent T20 series against India, and captained Australia in a game in Aaron Finch’s absence.

There are probably not many examples in Test cricket of a country fielding two wicket-keepers — one behind the wickets and one as a specialist batsman. But Australia has been persisting with Wade as a middle order batsman for a while, since last year’s Ashes series against England.

Wade has competed with Brad Haddin, Paine, and Peter Nevill for the specialist wicketkeeper’s slot. But ups and downs in his career have prevented him from cementing his place in the Test team as a specialist stumper.

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Wicket-keeping is a specialised department and a large majority of teams pick only specialists for this onerous task while picking pure batsmen from No.1 to No.5/No.6. But Wade is opening for Australia is almost a crisis-like situation, with Warner out and no other specialist opener in form to rely on.

Team requirements often take precedence over individuals’ area of specialisation. India forced wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia to open the innings as well as keep wickets. Although Mongia did well to score a century in the makeshift role — against Australia in Delhi in mid-1990s — that of course is not the permanent solution. And he later returned to his middle order position once India found two specialist openers.

To digress a little from the issue of a second wicket-keeper playing in the XI as a specialist batsman, Sridharan Sriram, a former India ODI player, was a specialist left-arm spinner. But the requirements of Tamil Nadu, his home state, forced him to play as a specialist opener. Sriram never liked his forced conversion, but carried on gamely. For India, he played as a middle odrer batsman in eight ODIs.

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Wade, however, grabbed his new role as a specialist batsman with both hands, and in his very first match as a middle order batsman scored a century, in the second innings against England in the first Test Birmingham in August last year. Paine kept wickets and captained Australia in that series after taking over the skipper’s role from Steve Smith who, along with two others, were suspended following the Sandpaper Gate scandal in the Test series against South Africa in March 2018.

–IANS

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