Men's Ashes 2021-22
Shades of Gilchrist in Carey's Test audition
While much of the Test selection debate has revolved around the candidates' batting, Australia's incumbent ODI wicketkeeper says he feels in great rhythm with the gloves
29 November 2021, 03:50 PM AEST
Alex Carey's ever-present smile broadens knowingly when asked if he finds it curious the debate surrounding the installation of Australia's next Test wicketkeeper seems to focus almost exclusively on the candidates' credentials with the bat.
While Carey is too diplomatic to say it, the pre-occupation with keepers' auxiliary skills set seems as similarly misplaced as choosing a surgeon based on their bedside manner; a high-end dining experience decided by the chef's capacity to knock out a crème brûlée.
Worthy considerations, to be sure, but rather missing the key criterion.
With ex-Test skipper and incumbent gloveman Tim Paine announcing his indefinite break from cricket, next month's Vodafone Ashes opener at the Gabba will see Australia field an uncapped keeper with the final choice expected to be between Carey and Western Australia's Josh Inglis.
Despite having kept wickets in five first-class matches this summer (while T20 World Cup duties and quarantine have reduced Inglis to one) in which he's completed 18 catches and two stumpings for South Australia, it was Carey's recent batting returns that have become the focus of pre-Test commentary.
So, it was understandable the 30-year-old, who national selectors identified as next-in-line for the job when they named him alongside Paine for the ultimately postponed Test tour to South Africa earlier this year, allowed himself a quiet fist pump on posting a century against Queensland yesterday.
"Everyone's entitled to their opinions, I'm absolutely fine with that," Carey told cricket.com.au in the wake of his second hundred of the Marsh One-Day Cup competition this season.
"It's the game we play, and if someone's in nick you get behind them and if someone's out of form you get on their back.
"As professional athletes, we live with that and what was really important for me in that period was to continue to stay really positive and work on things that I know work for me.
"You never like getting out early, and I guess for a number of games there I was finding ways to get out, but I never felt like I was going badly.
"I was training hard in the nets, I felt like I was hitting the ball well in the nets, at club cricket – and I know it's only grade cricket – but to get some runs there I felt like I still knew how to hold the bat, and the confidence was there.
"Then, on a good Adelaide wicket (yesterday) I got some rhythm and got past 10, which was nice."
The "club cricket" returns of which Carey spoke were a couple of hits for his Adelaide Premier Cricket team, Glenelg, in which he plundered 82 from 35 balls in a T20 fixture last month and then 155 off 179 as opener in a two-day game nine days ago.
But either side of those innings, he posted five single-figure scores in the Marsh Sheffield Shield.
That lean trot included knocks of two (caught on the boundary trying to break SA free of the web left-armer Matt Kuhnemann was spinning) and three (adjudged caught at short leg from a ball that initially appeared to hit his gloves but, on closer inspection, ballooned from thigh pad) against Queensland last week.
Prior to yesterday's hundred against the Bulls, SA coach Jason Gillespie had drawn comparisons between the careers of Carey and Gillespie's ex-Test teammate Adam Gilchrist, noting that both served lengthy apprenticeships in Australia's one-day team before being considered for Test selection.
Gilchrist, who was nine days shy of his 28th birthday when he replaced Ian Healy as Test keeper at the Gabba in 1999, had played 71 ODIs for Australia at that stage for 110 dismissals (92 caught, eight stumped) and 2167 runs at average 32.83 (strike rate 86.58) with five centuries as opener.
To date, Carey – who turned 30 three months ago – has played 43 ODIs (in addition to 38 T20Is) in which he's completed 57 dismissals (51 caught, six stumped) and scored 1153 runs averaging 37.19 with a marginally higher strike rate (89.71) and a solitary century usually batting down the order.
There is similar symmetry in their Shield records up until the time Gilchrist made his debut against Pakistan, the first of 96 consecutive Tests he played for his country.
The dynamic left-hander, who is credited with forever changing the role of keeper-batter due to his audacious ball striking, had played 45 Shield matches for 236 dismissals (229 caught, seven stumped) and 2401 runs at 39.36 with six centuries and a highest score of 203.
Carey's Shield record to date shows 37 matches in which he's completed 149 dismissals (145 caught, four stumped) and posted 2176 runs at 36.27 with five hundreds and a best return of 143 against WA at the WACA Ground two years ago.
The disparity in their total dismissals can be partly explained by Gilchrist regularly playing at the WACA where keepers feature more prominently, but Carey claims it's been the variety of pitches and playing conditions he's experienced this summer that has honed his glovework of late.
"For me, it's how I'm moving and having that rhythm," Carey said when asked what criteria he applied to himself to best gauge his keeping form.
"We've been on a few different pitches in the last month or two – we've been over to the WACA, then to Blundstone (Arena in Hobart), to Karen Rolton (Oval in Adelaide) and now to Adelaide Oval.
"And white ball cricket's different again because you don't often get a lot of balls coming to you.
"So, when you get to red-ball cricket you get a different rhythm, and as obvious as it sounds it's just about catching the ball.
"My one job is to take dismissals that come my way, and I felt like I've done that pretty well.
"I feel like I'm moving quite well, and happy with the way I'm watching the ball.
"We can complicate it as much as we want to, this sport and wicketkeeping, but my job is to take those dismissals and I'll be judged on that."
There are also comparisons that can be made between current events and the elevation of Peter Nevill, the most recent Australia keeper to make his Test debut in an Ashes series.
Nevill was three months shy of his 30th birthday when he was installed for the second Test of the 2015 campaign in the UK as replacement for 37-year-old Brad Haddin, who suddenly stood aside for personal reasons (illness of his daughter, Mia) and never again represented Australia.
At that stage of his career, Nevill had played 42 Shield games for 159 dismissals and a batting average of 46.88 with six centuries.
In his 39 Shield appearances to date, Inglis has completed 132 dismissals (129 caught, three stumped) and posted 1928 runs for WA at an average of 34.43 with three centuries and a highest score of 153 not out.
But perhaps the most salient statistic as selectors finalise their decision regarding the next Test keeper in coming days, is the respective exposure of both candidates to Australia's likely bowling attack for the Ashes opener of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.
Despite being a member of Australia's triumphant T20 World Cup squad, Inglis is yet to debut at international level and has played just one Shield game against NSW when they fielded the full quartet – at the SCG two years ago when he scored two and 46.
Carey, by contrast, has kept regularly to the 'big four' in limited-overs internationals, and in his most recent red-ball outing against a Blues attack that featured three of them (Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon) at Adelaide Oval last March, he posted a game-high 125 from 214 balls faced for SA.
"I'm not looking ahead too far, but I have kept to them in international cricket," Carey said of his experience behind the stumps to the big three quicks as well as Lyon with whom he's played 14 ODIs and a T20I as keeper.
"I haven't kept to them in the red-ball format, so that will be something new.
"My dream is to play Test cricket and if that opportunity does arise, then I know the guys in that team.
"But selection is out of my control.
"I'll just go up to Brisbane and prepare the best I can for the Australia A game I've been selected in (against England Lions starting December 9).
"Those other events will take care of themselves."
Vodafone Men's Ashes v England
Nov 30 – Dec 3: England v England Lions, Brisbane
Dec 1-3: Australian intra-squad match, Brisbane
Dec 9-12: Australia A v England Lions, Brisbane
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Perth Stadium