The 2019 Cricket World Cup is creeping ever closer and the Australian team is far from settled – a fact indicative of their recent struggles as a unit.
Be it the impending and much needed returns of Steve Smith and David Warner to bolster the side’s batting, the form of captain Aaron Finch or the make-up of the bowling attack, numerous selection threads appear destined to dominate the talk surrounding the team right up until the tournament.
No single conundrum is more interesting or polarising than the choice selectors face with regard to the wicketkeeping position. Generally a fielding side’s barometer, a keeper’s fortunes and manner so often mirror those of their teams.
That’s what makes the following debate so fascinating.
Australia has a limited overs keeper with immense talent and potential. You would be a very brave man to bet against Alex Carey ascending to the position of Australia’s keeper in all three formats at some point in the future.
Indeed, when selectors promoted him to the country’s white-ball sides, it was met with a generally contented chorus from the cricketing public.
His wicketkeeping is excellent, and his career batting averages hardly do his overall game justice – he has had considerable success at the top of the order in limited overs cricket for South Australia and the Adelaide Strikers.
But this is one of the major problems. As pointed out numerous times on The Roar, Carey is an opener by trade who is currently asked to perform a finishing role in the middle order.
After the experiment of Carey partnering Finch in the ODIs at home this summer, which was widely and reasonably declared a failure, he seems destined to occupy a lower middle order berth for the foreseeable future, particularly when you account for the return of that man Warner.
The question the selectors then need to ask themselves is he the best man to perform this role at this point in time?
No doubt he possesses the ability to rotate the strike and work with power hitters, as well as clear the boundary as necessary, but his inexperience and relatively indifferent performance in the role to date may cause the selectors mind to wander elsewhere.
Adding to the case for a change is the irresistible form of Matthew Wade. In a summer where we have been repeatedly told runs is the currency, Wade has made them in spades.
He is second on the both the list of Sheffield Shield run scorers (749 at 62.41 in eight matches at time of writing) and BBL08 run scorers with 592 at 44.28 (crucially striking at 146.89).
Major concerns have been levelled at the standard of his keeping in the past, but his from with the gloves in recent times should ease these.
Put simply, Wade is currently experiencing the high water mark of his career. Add to this his vast leadership experience and innate competitiveness and it is hard to draw any conclusion other than selectors would be wise to seriously consider his form.
As an aside, it may be apparent to some that Wade does not play the middle order role domestically. In the interest of an even comparison with Carey, it is important to acknowledge this.
However, Wade has played the role previously both domestically and internationally, and given the form he is in there should be significant optimism that can perform it with great effect.
A man already playing this role for the ODI team is Peter Handscomb. Something of a keeping bolter, eyebrows were raised when he was handed the gloves in the T20 arena for Australia.
Handscomb’s qualities as a batsman are obvious: an excellent JLT Cup (361 runs at 51.57, SR 94.75) saw him elevated to the ODI set-up in the summer, where he remained as a specialist batsman.
He has built a game on getting off strike and working with power hitters, a skill set Australia looks keen to utilise. Indeed, his keeping for Victoria and the Melbourne Stars has been serviceable.
The key question in this scenario is whether his keeping will stand up to the attritional nature of the ODI World Cup, with a large number of matches in a tight time frame, where the pressure would be unmatched by any situation he had kept in in the past. Would his keeping hold up?
Australia’s other options are keepers by trade – Handscomb is by his own admission a part-time gloveman. This is an important fact often lost in this debate.
Wicketkeeping is such a difficult job, do Australia risk a part-timer in the role in their biggest white-ball tournament for four years?
Never before has Australia been this close to a major tournament with such uncertainty about the keeping role.
Shane Warne even went so far as to say selectors may consider Test skipper Tim Paine for the job – his comments indicative of the state of flux and confusion surrounding the position.
Selectors are faced with the task of making a decision from a pool of candidates each with their own positives and shortcomings.
At this point in time, it is hard to see anyone other then Carey wearing the gloves come World Cup time, far from the worst result for the Aussies.
But selectors much to ponder before this image becomes a reality.