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Ashes 2021/22

Alex Carey’s career could end up going the George Bailey way

Alex Carey Tests
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

After a promising start to his Test career drew praise, Alex Carey’s readiness for Test cricket is less sure than it was, with technical keeping issues and meagre batting returns surfacing in the most recent three Ashes Tests. If there’s no immediate course correction, Carey’s career could end up going the way of George Bailey, writes Aadya Sharma.

“As a wicketkeeper, you only tend to get judged on catches taken or catches dropped, so I’ll keep moving forward…”

Alex Carey must have had a premonition when he spoke after the first Ashes Test in December, which ended up being a record-breaking debut for him with the gloves. It was baptism of fire: a month prior, Carey wouldn’t have harboured any realistic hopes of starting in the Ashes, but there he was from ball one, wearing a new Baggy Green, standing behind when Mitchell Starc sent Rory Burns’ leg stump cartwheeling. Over the next four days, he pouched eight catches, the record for a player on debut.

Carey had big boots to fill, for Tim Paine’s absence, while depriving Australia of an able leader, also gave them little time to prep a replacement. Paine had been first choice since November 2017, and had stepped up to be a central figures months after. Scandal or not though, at 37, Paine himself wouldn’t have been expected to continue for much longer, especially after he hinted in 2019, and again in 2021, that he could bow out soon.

So, when Carey stepped up, it seemed like an unnaturally natural transition, a shift of power behind the stumps that was set to happen. Carey isn’t just a gloveman, but has often been hailed for his level-headedness and calmness under pressure, all indications of a future leader.

In fact, he’s been part of the leadership group for almost as long as his whole Australia career, having been named vice-captain three months into his T20I journey. Last year, he was elevated to the ODI captaincy in Aaron Finch’s absence, and there was every indication that he’d be the man to follow Paine when the wicketkeeping slot is up for transition.

Four Tests into his career, though, the landscape has changed dramatically. After a memorable start, Carey’s keeping standards underwent a sharp downward curve, with repeated errors surfacing behind the stumps. It started with him watching an edge off Jos Buttler fly past him at Adelaide, and on the fifth day of the Sydney Test, he dropped Haseeb Hameed and Jonny Bairstow to add on to his woes, with other skirmishes sandwiched in between.

“That’s two in this game now. The disappointment – it’s a horrible feeling,” Adam Gilchrist said on Fox commentary. “In Melbourne, he put a couple down and now he’s put a couple down here too. It’s just starting to be a bit of an issue,” fellow commentator Shane Warne added. Brad Haddin pointed out a particular technical concern for offering just low to his right, with a distinct lack of power in his dive hindering from consistently taking balls in that direction.

If things slide further, Carey’s spot could be under threat from Josh Inglis, four years his junior who’s waiting on the sidelines. Carey’s thin returns with the bat haven’t helped: in seven innings, he’s managed 110 runs at 15.71, with one fifty to show.

If Carey does get usurped by Inglis, it will be a reminder of another white-ball leader with a similarly brief red-ball spell: George Bailey. Like Carey, Bailey debuted in an Ashes series. Bailey’s five Test caps all came in the 5-0 trouncing of England in 2013/14, with his Test career most fondly remembered for smashing a record-equalling 28 runs off one James Anderson over. However, his underwhelming scores at No.6 weren’t convincing enough, and he was quickly replaced by another Alex – Doolan, with Shaun Marsh, too, returning to the squad in early 2014.

Much like Carey, though, leadership came to Bailey early: in 2012, he was named T20I skipper without playing an international game, leading them in 28 T20Is (the second-most for the country), as well as 29 ODIs, often filling in for Michael Clarke.

If Carey’s outings continue to underwhelm, Australia could go with the younger option. And it could be Bailey himself, as chief selector, making that call, possibly restricting Carey’s Test career to a home Ashes series win, even as he continues to be a vital part of their ODI unit, and a leader in coloured clothing. The Hobart Test could give a clear indication of the path ahead.

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