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T20 World Cup 2021

Matthew Wades through rough patch to earn his dream moment

Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Matthew Wade has spent a career moving in and out of the Australia set-up, and knew another exit could well have been his last. It all changed dramatically in three balls.

Last year, Matthew Wade helped out a contract-less Marcus Stoinis bounce back into contention, sending motivational texts to the all-rounder during a tough phase away from international cricket.

On Thursday, Wade gave Stoinis another helping hand, but this time, it was for Australia.

It was also about Wade himself, who rediscovered some of his own mojo and possibly resuscitated his career, playing an outrageously brazen cameo at the death to take Australia’s men to their second T20 World Cup final.

“I was a little bit nervous coming into the game,” Wade said after winning the Player of the Match award, “knowing that potentially this could be the last opportunity I get to represent Australia.”

He isn’t going anywhere soon, for you don’t just smash Shaheen Afridi for a hat-trick of sixes and disappear into oblivion. Take the last 17 balls out of his career, and you could understand his fear. Wade had hardly batted in this tournament, appearing in two out of five innings. Before that, he had spent five innings in Bangladesh gathering insignificant scores, his strike rate not crossing 100 even once.

Australia have experimented with other younger wicketkeepers in the recent past, and there are a few more in waiting. If Wade had not stepped up in Dubai, it could really have been curtains on his T20I journey. But it wasn’t to be.

When Wade joined Stoinis, Australia’s required rate had crept to over 10 runs an over, and there was Pat Cummins to follow. Shadab Khan had ripped the heart out of the middle order, Afridi had two overs remaining, and Stoinis too was fresh at the crease. The run-rate shot up to over 11, and Afridi, Pakistan’s talisman, returned – Wade faced three deliveries, and scored two.

By then, every self-anointed expert watching the game had announced Australia’s demise. By his own admission later, even Wade wasn’t sure if Australia could see this through.

Stoinis kept going at it though, keeping Australia in the hunt, with Wade playing the mute sidekick. With three overs to go, Wade was 8 off 9. No one knew what was coming next.

It started with a baseball swing off Hasan Ali, swatting a full-length off-cutter over long-on for his first six. It would have made Wade believe a little more. A fine flick for four to end the over also got the run-rate back within reach.

But then came Shaheen Afridi. His figures read 3-0-14-1.

With just three runs off the first three balls, Wade knew he had to go for it.

Perhaps, his own words from earlier this year, when he was dropped after poor form in the Test series against India, must have reverberated inside.

“I know I missed my opportunity; I played some poor shots and I find myself in the scenario I’m in now,” he said back then.

With 20 required off 10, he went for an almighty heave, but the ball took the toe-end, ballooning towards a running Hasan Ali at midwicket. He spilt it, giving Wade’s career a lifeline.

Wade wasn’t missing this opportunity.

Over the years, Wade has spoken about how he’s conditioned himself to be calm in clutch situations, always reminding himself that playing cricket for Australia is a great achievement in itself.

“That gives you a real calm when you go out to play,” he told The Cricketer last year. “You are not so worried about expectation – you are not thinking ‘if I don’t go well here, what is going to happen’ – it’s just you know, live in the moment. Enjoy every moment.”

His career was on the line, the tournament’s finest seamer was running in at him, and a spot in the World Cup final was at stake. Somewhere inside him, the beauty of that moment must have knocked the fear out, replacing it with a surge of inexplicable courage.

How else would you explain what he did next?

He exposed all three sticks, crouching, shifting his weight from right to left and swivelling, before scooping Afridi to the fine-leg fence. It was ridiculous. Given what was at risk, Wade had truly lived the moment.

That was one out of three. Next, he stayed put and dismissed the ball over deep midwicket, smiling as the ball disappeared into the crowd, 96 metres and gone.

And then again, leaving his stumps unprotected, he lifted a full toss over Mohammad Rizwan’s shoulder, sealing a game that, an over ago, looked far from being Australia’s.

Afridi stood motionless at the bowling crease until he was shaken out of his stupor by Wade himself. Out came a hand to shake.

And there was the hero of his moment, walking back with Stoinis, patting his head in a way that would make Adam Zampa jealous. Kane Richardson came from behind to give him a hug, Glenn Maxwell was seen shaking his head in disbelief. A half-hour ago, he was concerned his career could be over soon. Now, he was being cheered on by his joyous teammates.

“Probably hasn’t sunk in,” he said soon after. “I’ve just finished batting. I’m just happy to contribute. I was out of the team for a while, just happy I got an opportunity again.”

This one was for Australia, but when it finally sinks in, Wade will realise how much it was for himself too.

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