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How Wade stopped worrying and learned to love being a batsman

Matthew Wade takes a breather Getty Images

It's more than six years and six months since Matthew Wade made the most recent of his two Test centuries, a high class counter-attack from No. 6 at the SCG against Sri Lanka in January 2013.

That hundred, and his other three figure score against West Indies in Dominica the previous year, have stayed in the memories of many who witnessed them, and always left open the question as to whether or not Wade might be worth his place as a specialist batsman.

But Wade is nothing if not stubborn, and it took most of the intervening period for him to reach the point where he realised that his batting talent, leavened with some technical and tactical work to make it suit all conditions, was the thing that would bring him back into the international fold. Wade's wicketkeeping, while always improving, has never had the polish of a natural; his yapping, aggressive mien on the field was useful to Australia in the maelstrom summer of 2016-17, but only in a transient, expendable way.

If there was a reluctance to a change of tack, to focusing purely on batting as the means by which Wade would flourish, there were also life changes that brought maturity and perspective. Moving home to Tasmania and playing in more difficult home ground conditions at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, taking on the state captaincy, passing the age of 30, and marriage and then fatherhood with his wife Julie. All were mixed into the bargain, allied to some key help from the state's batting coach, Jeff Vaughan.

"I just reached a place where I probably sat down and worked out why I wanted to play cricket and what I was actually doing it for," Wade said. "The thing that kept coming back to me is I wanted to be the best player that I could possibly be and get the most out of my talent. Moving from Melbourne to Tassie has definitely made me a better batter. To be able to bat at Bellerive is certainly a challenge and if I had've kept batting the way I was batting at the MCG I certainly wouldn't have been making any runs on that wicket.

"It's obviously a bowler-friendly wicket at times in Bellerive and you have to find a way to score runs. I could hit the ball really nicely when I played at Victoria and we played at the MCG which everyone's seen is a flat wicket and that's probably been the big difference that I really had to look internally and work out how I was going to go about making runs. Doing a heap of work with Jeff Vaughan to do that and I feel like I play the ball a heap later than what I did two years ago, I probably chased the ball out in front, now I let the ball come to me and let the ball do the work.

"Playing with the Dukes ball as well in Australia has probably helped that as well, it swings a lot more. So they're probably the big changes I've made. When you look at yourself as a specialist batter I think it certainly changes the way you go about training and what you're trying to achieve out on the ground."

Vaughan, who has also enjoyed fruitful mentoring relationships with the likes of Travis Head and Tim Paine, mastered the art of communicating with Wade in ways that were something other than prescriptive. Building a relationship and working through improvements together, Vaughan and Wade were able to fashion a more rounded game for a batsman who had, on ability and toughness alone, first played Test cricket in 2012.

"He's class, he's one of the best that I've ever worked with," Wade said. "When I'm talking about Jeff Vaughan it's probably the ability to let players make their own mistakes is what first comes to mind. A lot of coaches can push you in the direction they think is best for you. He has an amazing ability to be able to back the way you want to play and let you go out and play like that, and if you have challenges, he can help you get over them, but he doesn't push you in a certain direction.

"He backs you as a player more than a lot of coaches I've ever had and I think that gives you confidence when you walk to the middle, if you've got any doubt at all then you're a big, big chance to fail. He just has the ability to put confidence in players and I think you've seen probably more the work he's done with our younger players has been extraordinary. Guys like [Jordan] Silk weren't playing two years ago, now they're in the top three or four players in the country. I can't speak highly enough of him."

Something as fundamental as Wade's bat has changed too, reflecting his search for a better balance between orthodoxy and his own percussive power game. "I've moved to that a couple of years ago," he said. "Joe Root went from GM to New Balance, he used short blade, long handle. I saw a couple of his bats, trialed them, liked them, went from there.

"It wasn't a real big thing for me, it just felt comfortable in my hand. They have got shorter and shorter as things have gone on. My T20 and one-day bat is short. It just feels comfortable for me. I feel like I can swing it better in T20 for sure, it's a shorter, more compact blade, and long handle, it just suits the way I can go out and swing it. It was when I was over here playing for Birmingham. Sam Hain was in that team, he had one. I had started chopping my blade down before I came over here, then I saw those, liked the look of them and went from there."

At the same time, other relationships have evolved, not least Wade's with Paine. The pair have known each other since schooldays, but in a universe where their specific spot has only ever been available to one player in any particular team, the cross currents had Wade moving to Victoria then, when he returned to Tasmania, momentarily displacing Paine in the state team. When the national selectors saw things differently and handed Paine the Test gloves, Wade took this information as part of a move towards more of a batting focus and, by extension, a less competitive association with Paine, now captain.

"There's been crossover for years, I suppose," Wade said. "Tim was a couple years older than me when I was in Tassie and I suppose I look at it in a completely different light than what I did two years ago, I don't see myself solely as a wicketkeeper anymore and I don't feel like I'm pushing for that spot too much anymore. I think Kez [Alex Carey] is going to be the next wicketkeeper for Australia, I think everyone knows that, it's just a matter of time for that to happen.

"I probably see myself as a specialist batter a lot more now and it's just a luxury that I've played 20 Tests and a lot of one-dayers as a keeper that if something happens to Tim on the morning of a Test then I can stand in and keep. I've got no issues there, I did half the Shield year when Tim wasn't there and I played as a batter the other half. I probably look at it in a different light between me and Tim now. We're team-mates, we get along well and it's enjoyable to play cricket with him."

These evolutionary changes all added up to Wade building a run of run-making that have, in recent weeks, earned him the sobriquet "Don" for its sheer prolific number. He was the dominant cricketer in both the Sheffield Shield and the Big Bash League last year, carrying that on for Australia A ahead of the Ashes. But the fact he was in England at all had a lot to do with Julie, who encouraged him to make himself available despite a looming birth.

"I certainly wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my wife throwing me on the plane to be honest," Wade said. "I was probably going to pass on the Australia A tour because we were going to have the baby and I rang Julie during the Shield game and basically told her I was a chance to get picked in that Australia A tour and she told me to go. So all credit to her to be honest, otherwise I wouldn't be here. I felt like I'd put a lot of runs on the board already, that if that wasn't enough I was comfortable with that. Family comes first for me obviously and all of the cricketers here.

"It was a sticky situation, I probably didn't think I'd get picked in the Australia A tour, I thought they probably knew what I could deliver and they'd seen enough of me, so when that came up it was a little bit from left field, but we sorted through it and went to Melbourne and had little Goldie and jumped on a plane four days later and here I am. Julie has been amazing. She's coming over during partner period during the second Test, she'll fly over with the girls. It will be good to see them.

"I think every player that has had kids will say it certainly chills you out and gives you a great perspective of life. The ability to come over and do what I am doing, I understand how grateful I am. I could be at home doing the dad thing day in and day out, Julie has given me the opportunity to come over. Game day is a breeze compared to looking after two kids, I would have thought."

But beyond all the change, education and improvement Wade has made over the past few years, there is one thing that will not alter, even if he is not wearing the gloves - his vocal nature. In this, if nothing else, Wade may be the only Austrlaian who gives out more than he gets back from the Edgbaston crowd come Thursday's first Test. "I try and keep it as lighthearted as I can. A bit of banter with as many blokes as I can. I try and give Heady a bit of grief," he said.

"It's an intimidating environment to play so you have to create your own environment on the ground. I feel like I can throw a bit of banter out, and Tim is good at that as well. Then you are more worried about what's going on between the 11 guys out there rather than the whole external pressure. This game here, there was a lot of tension for guys to get spots. It was trying to create the best team environment you could, and the Hick XII managed to do that a lot better than the Haddin XII.

"There are lot of intimidating grounds, and Edgbaston is one of them. If you get stuck on that side you can get heckled for the whole day. I try and steer clear of there. It's a great venue. The wicket can be one of two. A lot of the time it does seam and swing, then it can take spin towards the back-end of the game. You have to be prepared for both. I am excited, it's the first time in a long time I have been genuinely excited to be rocking up and playing, and to be around an Ashes series, it has been a long time between Tests for me and sometimes you can get in the grind of playing international cricket and I was probably in that for a long period of time. I've been away for a long time and I am excited to get back in."