Tasmania captain Matthew Wade is set to give up wicketkeeping in Sheffield Shield cricket next season in order to boost his chances of a Test recall as a specialist batsman.
ESPNCricinfo understands that the Tigers inquired with several wicketkeepers around the country prior to the state contract deadline last Friday before ultimately deciding that contracted batsman Jake Doran would be the best pick for the big gloves in Shield games when Australia Test captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine is unavailable, to allow Wade to play as a specialist batsman for the long-term.
Doran played as Tasmania's specialist wicketkeeper in seven Shield games in 2016-17. He also kept briefly for Tasmania in a Shield game in March. Paine was rested for the match against Victoria, and though Wade kept for the majority of the game, he handed over the gloves to Doran in both innings when he bowled. Doran also kept for the Cricket Australia XI against Sri Lanka in Hobart, with Paine helping him with his wicketkeeping preparation for that game. Tasmania believe Doran could make a good long-term wicketkeeper-batsman at the first-class level. Another Tigers batsman, Ben McDermott, is also capable of keeping if necessary, having kept for Australia at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup.
Wade is likely to continue to keep in 50-over cricket for Tasmania and in the BBL for Hobart Hurricanes, in the same way Peter Handscomb has for Victoria and Melbourne Stars and Cameron Bancroft has for Perth Scorchers, but wants to press his claims to play Test cricket as a specialist batsman.
Wade was selected for the Australia A tours of England after a stunning season where he made 1,800 runs across all three formats, including 1,021 Shield runs at an average of 60.05 with two centuries and eight half-centuries. Shield champions Victoria rated Wade as the best domestic batsman in the country by some margin after he made scores of 137 and 86 against them last season. He was also named Australian Domestic Player of the Year at the Australian Cricket Awards.
But Wade was overlooked by Australia's selectors in January when the Test side was revamped for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka following the 2-1 series loss to India. National chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns said at the time that Wade had been batting too low at No. 6 for Tasmania to be considered as a batsman and coach Justin Langer said they continued to view Wade as a wicketkeeper first.
Wade voiced his frustration at that scenario in January on SEN. "That's the reason that I'm getting, that puts me in a position that's quite tough because I don't want to be shuffling players around in the Tassie order just for me to be picked for Australia," Wade said. "I feel like if I give up the gloves completely, go bat at four, it doesn't pan out as well, I feel like the next thing I'll be hearing is I can't be picked as the back-up keeper because I'm not keeping.
"It's a tough situation to be in, I'm not really sure what we're going to do. I'm not going to do it just for my own good."
Wade moved to No. 4 for Tasmania after the BBL and scored 450 runs in eight innings against the Dukes ball playing predominantly as a specialist bat, with the exception of the game Paine was rested for.
Wade and Marcus Harris were the first players since 2014-15 to make 1,000 runs in a Shield season. Only five players have achieved that milestone since 2008. Chris Rogers and Adam Voges both achieved the feat and went on to make five Test hundreds for Australia, and both did so after their 35th birthdays. Michael Klinger scored 1,000 runs in two separate seasons, 2008-09 and 2014-15, but never played Test cricket. He played three T20Is for Australia in 2017.
Former Australia captain Michael Clarke stated as far back as 2012, after Wade's maiden Test century in Dominica, that Wade was more than capable of playing Test cricket as a specialist batsman. "Wadey, if he plays like that, certainly will continue to put pressure on not only the wicketkeeper's spot but a batsman's position too," Clarke had said. "That's something the selectors will have to worry about in time."
But, more recently, former selectors Mark Waugh and Darren Lehmann both referenced Wade's modest overall record for Australia as a reason for him not to be selected again in Test cricket, although both felt he could still be considered ODI or T20I cricket.
Wade made two Test centuries batting at No. 6 as a wicketkeeper in 22 Tests, but only averaged 28.58. He has one ODI century and ten half-centuries in 80 innings, but only strikes at 82.11.
Steve Waugh averaged 28.73 in his first 22 Test matches with just eight fifties and no centuries batting predominantly at Nos. 6 and 7. Waugh only made nine half-centuries in his first 80 ODI innings striking at 73.87, albeit a very different era of limited-overs cricket. Steve Waugh was only 23 at that stage of his career compared to Wade, who is 31.
Mark Waugh has also noted Wade's age as a factor against his future selection. But, for reference, Michael Hussey represented Australia 268 times across all three formats after his 31st birthday, making 10,071 runs, including 18 centuries, in six-and-a-half years of international cricket. Shaun Marsh turns 36 in July and was handed a Cricket Australia contract despite currently only being a one-format player.