Carey hatches new plan from winter of discontent

Australia's Test gloveman is in the midst of the 'quietest' winter of his career and is determined to use it to his advantage

On a crisply clear early winter's morning in Adelaide, a solitary figure pushes himself through a series of shuttle runs up the well-grassed slopes of Montefiore Hill which flanks Adelaide Oval's northern perimeter. 

Neither the retinue of students in the city's university accommodation precinct, nor sports fans turning up to watch a local AFL team go through its paces in the adjacent stadium pay attention to the figure clad in shorts and T-shirt with baseball cap and ear buds firmly in place. 

Had they recognised the man repeatedly sprinting up the 50-metre incline before walking briskly down to tackle it again, they might well have wondered why Alex Carey was subjecting himself to solo sessions in what becomes a public car park during cricket season. 

And truth be told, it's a question Australia's men's team Test wicketkeeper has posed to himself in recent weeks.

Carey's solo running sessions have been a regular feature of his off-season this year // Getty

Since reaching international ranks in 2018, Carey has been part of Test and/or national white-ball squads competing overseas during the southern hemisphere winter. 

Years before that, he was famously pursuing a career in Australian football which meant summers became his 'off-season', and during the fleeting period in between those sporting endeavours he spent his days desk-bound while working as a financial planner. 

But having dropped out of the limited-overs set-up when cut from Australia's ultimately triumphant team at last year's ODI World Cup, and with no Test commitments until next season's Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against India, Carey admits to being something of a lost soul.

"I'd probably reached the stage where I didn't know what to do with myself," he told 

"I've basically been a full-time dad which is really nice, but for the past month and a half it's been just going to the gym most days to burn some energy. 

"It can be difficult when all you've done is compete and lived to a structure and a routine for however many years. 

"And then when you've got no structure and no competition coming up – for me anyway, I found that a little bit difficult after a few weeks off. 

"Now I've got a plan in place it's a little bit clearer, but I reckon if I had July and August off as well, I'd be pulling my hair out."

The "plan" is a month-long stint with Los Angeles Knight Riders in the USA's Major Cricket League T20 competition, a trip that includes a family holiday with wife Eloise and their children (Louis and Clementine) in Florida. 

Carey concedes his decision to follow a number of his Australia teammates into the rapidly expanding world of T20 franchise cricket is also an acknowledgement his days of representing Australia in the shortest format are effectively done. 

He played 38 T20 internationals from 2018-21 but the competition from fellow wicketkeeper-batters Matthew Wade, Josh Inglis and Josh Philippe, coupled with limited opportunities in the BBL due to Test commitments, has seen that boat sail. 

"In Australia, it's a pretty big pool of quality T20 cricketers to pick from," Carey said. 

"So if I'm honest, that (international opportunity) has probably pretty much gone for me. 

"But I love T20 cricket and it was through the Big Bash that I got my chance to play for Australia. 

"So it's something I want to continue to play, which is where I see the franchise stuff becoming more of an option for me.

"Experiencing MLC is a great way to start that." 

Despite surrendering his place in the ODI line-up to Inglis one game into last year's World Cup campaign in India, Carey does not subscribe to the view his days as a 50-over international player are also done. 

The 32-year-old holds a clear picture on where he fits within the squad's ODI plans and, while he might not have been included since last year's World Cup, understands situations can change quickly for such a specialised role.

"I still have aspirations to play for one-day cricket for Australia, definitely," he said. 

"I feel like I still have a fair bit of good one-day cricket in me, and it's an area where I'd love to continue to be ready to hopefully get another opportunity." 

For now, however, Carey is adjusting to life as a single-format Australia player and one of only three members of the current Test team – along with veteran batters Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja – not to have been plying his trade somewhere in the world over recent months. 

Prior to his most recent Test (against New Zealand at Christchurch) there were whispered suggestions that perhaps even that role might be revoked for the gloveman who has played 32 consecutive matches in the Baggy Green Cap since taking over from Tim Paine.

Carey's sublime 98no guides Aussies home in tense chase

It was not so much Carey's form in his primary job behind the stumps that brought the speculation – he shares the record for most dismissals by an Australia men's 'keeper in an innings (6) and a match (10) – but rather his efforts in front of them with the bat. 

Even though he is one of only four Australia Test glovemen (along with Adam Gilchrist, Brad Haddin and Paine) with a batting average above 30 from 30-plus appearances, it was as much the manner of his batting than its raw return that stirred unrest. 

Following a lean second half of last year's Ashes series, then a home summer where numerous starts yielded just two scores above 50, Carey's dismissals in the first two Tests across the Tasman suggested a deeper malaise. 

Twice caught at extra cover off airy drives in the series opener at Wellington (for 10 and three) when Australia needed lower-order runs, Carey succumbed even more ingloriously in the first innings of the final Test at Hagley Oval. 

In attempting to lap-sweep the first delivery sent down by occasional off-spinner Glenn Phillips, the left-hander made contact with the toe of his bat and looped a simple catch to short mid-wicket to leave his team 7-189. 

He admits his preparedness to try and move the game on, which can lead to high-risk or unconventional stroke play, renders him fallible to 'ugly' dismissals but did not believe his Test place was in jeopardy heading into the final day at Christchurch. 

"Within the group and from the language being used, I never felt like I was needing to worry about that external noise," he said.

"If I didn't score runs (in the second innings at Christchurch) then the last few innings would have been leaner than I would have liked, but I felt there had been some pretty important 30s and 50s earlier in the summer. 

"I probably look back at the MCG Test (against Pakistan) and getting a fifty there to help post a score we could defend, then Mitch (Marsh) and I put on close to 100 next match at the SCG on what could have been a tough-ish wicket. 

"Then there was 60-odd at the Gabba against West Indies, so my contributions were solid without being too eye-catching. 

"But within the group, I felt like my job behind the stumps was going pretty well." 

As events transpired, Carey not only produced his most valuable Test knock (98no) that earned him a maiden player of the match prize but carried Australia to their victory target of 279 after they had crashed to 5-80 early on the last day. 

"Even if I didn't make that score, I still felt like I was actually batting OK," Carey said. 

"I think there are times where I don't have to play a shot when the risk-reward may not be there.

Carey celebrates with skipper Pat Cummins after a match-winning 98no in the second Test against NZ in March // Getty

"And I think there are also times when putting the bowlers under the pump isn't a bad way to go about it. 

"But I was disappointed in the first innings of that last Test against New Zealand, when I tried to lap Phillips – that was a poor decision. 

"And hitting one to cover in the second innings of the first Test of that series, having seen what I'd seen and knowing the risks on that wicket, was not the way to get out so that was also a bit disappointing.  

"I do get out in certain ways at times that probably don't look great, but I'll continue to try to put bowlers under the pump and play that way. 

"I'm still trying to improve and get better at Test cricket and longer-format cricket, and it's just trying to have that right balance while I'm out there. 

"That's what was pleasing about the 98 not out, there wasn't anything too extravagant.

"Phillips was bowling pretty well, so it was just accepting that and blocking him out then looking to score at the other end which proved the better option, whereas other times you'd like to try and get on top of the spinner. 

Carey counter-attacks in fastest innings of his career

"So it was a nice way to go into a (winter) break, although when you do finally get a score, you want to play again immediately after." 

While an urge to keep the scoreboard moving might have occasionally cost Carey when batting, that mindset has conversely worked in his favour in his principal job as keeper. 

Heading into the previous Border-Gavaskar Series in India last year, he stood alone as the only Australia men's keeper to have completed more than 50 dismissals in Tests without a solitary stumping among them. 

Just over a year later, he can claim 12 which is the same total as Rod Marsh managed across his 96-Test career and more than his immediate predecessors Wade (11), Haddin (8) and Paine (7). 

Five of those came in the opening two Tests of last year's Ashes tour, when England's 'Bazballers' became so hellbent on dominating spinner Nathan Lyon, they charged him headlong. 

Or, in the infamous case of Jonny Bairstow at Lord's, dozily wandered beyond the crease while the ball remained live.

"Test cricket is pretty attacking at times now, and against England there were quite a few opportunities," Carey said of his stumpings tally which has him sitting ninth on the all-time Australia list. 

Inside the Aussie rooms after Bairstow stumping | The Test

"And that's probably also the pressure that Nathan (Lyon) puts on a lot of teams. 

"They're thinking 'if we're not going score off the big quicks, then how are we going to get after the bowling?' so Nathan becomes the guy they look to go after. 

"I do feel like I've worked really hard and really closely with all the bowlers, but with Nathan especially. 

"And I believe if you work hard, you put in the time and have the right mindset then generally the results will take care of themselves." 

For at least the next week or so, that hard work will include more solo training drills as well as some conducted in company of the newly formed running group that features South Australia teammates Nathan McSweeney, Ben Manenti, Liam Scott and Harry Conway. 

Then, on his return from MLC duties, Carey will join SA's pre-season program by which time a new men's coach is expected to be in place with the Test keeper eyeing at least the first three Marsh Sheffield Shield games to hone his red-ball skills before India arrive.

That represents another novelty given he has played just six of SA's 23 Shield matches since earning his Test cap against England in December 2021. 

Carey is planning to be available for SA's first three Shield games of 2024-25 // Getty

"I reckon first three Shield games definitely, and a couple of (Marsh Cup) one-dayers in between them," Carey said when asked about his preparation ahead of the first Border-Gavaskar Test starting at Perth Stadium on November 22. 

"For South Australia it will be a new coach, a lot of new staff and new faces, so it will be important to try and get a few wins on the board early. 

"If Travis (Head) and I can play a number of games with a rather inexperienced team and new captain (McSweeney), with a quality bowling attack and some new batters into the mix, it would be great to see where we stand when we do have a full squad on the park."

NRMA Insurance Men's Test Series v India

First Test: November 22-26: Perth Stadium, Perth (D)

Second Test: December 6-10: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide (D/N)

Third Test: December 14-18: The Gabba, Brisbane (D)

Fourth Test: December 26-30: MCG, Melbourne (D)

Fifth Test: January 3-7: SCG, Sydney (D)