JLT One-Day Cup 2017
Carey aiming to be a not-so-quiet achiever
Redbacks' wicketkeeper-batsman targeting a greater presence behind the stumps throughout the 2017-18 season
24 September 2017, 09:10 AM AEST
Alex Carey acknowledges that part of the modern-day wicketkeepers' brief is to maintain a constant verbal presence that energises teammates and polarises opponents, but admits that his methods are more likely to engender frustration than confrontation.
Carey has been touted as a future Australia keeper after he was named in the Australia A four-day and one-day squads for the scheduled tour to South Africa earlier this year, a campaign that was ultimately boycotted amid the ructions of Australian cricket's pay dispute.
And while acumen behind the stumps and productivity with the bat remain the key criteria upon which incumbent Test gloveman Matthew Wade and others aspiring for his job are judged, a willingness and capacity to lead the team's on-field character has also emerged as a required skill.
In the wake of Australia's humiliating 0-3 Test series loss to lowly ranked Sri Lanka last year, captain Steve Smith bemoaned that his team was a "pretty quiet group" that needed to generate greater spark in the field to give them a more intimidatory edge.
When Smith's team was rolled over by South Africa in the next two Tests they played – at Perth and Hobart – among the wholesale personnel changes was the removal of keeper Peter Nevill (known to have a reserved on-field persona) who was replaced by the more overtly combative Wade.
While Wade's glovework has shown improvement since his return to the Test side, having been challenged by daunting pitch conditions on Australia's recent tour to Bangladesh, his return with the bat (a solitary half-century and average of 20 in 16 innings) has ensured he remains under scrutiny.
By contrast, Nevill was a dominant batsman for New South Wales after losing his Test berth and finished the previous Sheffield Shield season with three centuries and an average of almost 57 but he has also acknowledged that he is unlikely to develop a more extroverted on-field character.
As a consequence, if the National Selection Panel feels the need to make a change to the Test XI before or during the impending Magellan Ashes series then Carey's inferior first-class batting return (average of 25.61 from 32 innings without a century) might be mitigated by his presence behind the stumps.
"I'm probably more annoying than lippy at individuals," Carey told cricket.com.au when asked if he was comfortable engaging in what is euphemistically referred to as 'banter'.
"I think wicketkeeping you've got to be up and about, you've got to be buzzing around, you've got to be talking and running up to the stumps.
"And I think that's just as annoying as actually lipping someone, so that's the way I go about it.
"I don't get personal, but I pride myself on setting the standard and bringing the energy out on the field for South Australia.
"And if that's not going well, I have to sit back at the end of the day and see what I've got to improve on."
As a former captain of the Greater Western Sydney Giants in their inaugural season in the Australian Football League's pre-eminent under-18s competition in 2010, Carey understands the importance of teams imposing themselves on their rivals.
And he notes that, given his pedigree having played at reserves level for Glenelg in the South Australian National Football League while still a teenager, he's comfortable getting under the skin – if not necessarily in the face – of his on-field foes.
"Absolutely, when I'm out on the field I get in the contest," he said.
"I think it comes naturally and with a footy background, I think you've got to have a bit of 'shit' in you otherwise you just get trodden over.
"And it's pretty easy to jump on the back of (SA seam bowlers) Chadd Sayers and Kane Richardson when they're up and about, and even Joe Mennie has a good presence when he's out there bowling."
Carey spent much of the past winter working with Cricket Australia's National Performance Squad at the Bupa National Cricket in Brisbane, in lieu of his Australia A duties, working on his keeping skills with former Test gloveman (now Pathways Manager) Graham Manou.
He also spent significant time with recently appointed High Performance coach (and ex-Test opener) Matthew Elliott focusing on "mental more so than technical" changes to his batting, and sat in on guest presentations from Ian Healy among others.
Healy, Australia's long-serving Test keeper and vice-captain, was never one to shy away from a verbal stoush with opponents and while Carey does not see himself as an antagonist he recognises the role that a keeper plays in maintaining morale and energy levels in the field.
The 'drummer in the band' as Australia's current Bupa Support Team fielding coach and another former gloveman Brad Haddin liked to describe it.
"Ian Healy spoke to us at the NPS camp and said that one thing you need from a wicketkeeper is that you've got to have a presence," Carey said.
"That's going to be a big focus for me this summer, to have that presence out on the field.
"It's probably a pretty good challenge for us that South Australia's first Sheffield Shield game of the season is at home to New South Wales, a team that's probably going to have (Steve) Smith, (David) Warner, (Mitchell) Starc, (Josh) Hazlewood, (Nathan) Lyon and Nevill.
"If I can have a presence out there against those guys, that's a pretty big step forward for me."
Carey also recognises that if he is to take that next step, he will need to score more heavily with the bat, having reached 50 on five occasions last summer but finishing the season with a highest score of 79.
The 26-year-old left-hander has spent much of his junior cricket career and time at grade level batting at the top of the order, and filled the role as opener or number three in his initial first-class stint with the Redbacks in 2012-13 as a specialist batter.
And while he's flattered to know that the national selectors and other close observers might have him earmarked for higher honours, he understands that it's his non-verbal contributions with bat and gloves that will ultimately dictate his success or otherwise.
"I want to have a better season than last year and improve on those 50s – turning one or two or three of those into hundreds – and staying clean behind the stumps," Carey said.
"I set pretty high standards and I guess it's just maturing each year, getting bigger and there's no doubt that my goal is, and dreams are, to play for Australia.
"It's nice to be in some people's eyes as second, third, fourth in line and not too far away.
"That's my goal and I'm aiming to do that, so it's nice to sit back and think 'yeah, that would be pretty cool if that happened' but I know I've got to perform and I have to make some bigger runs.
"You see that Peter Nevill makes hundreds in the Shield season and that gets recognised, so I have to do that now."