From the midst of a gloomy batting display by Australia last night wicketkeeper Alex Carey produced his latest sparkling knock, this time against New Zealand.
Carey arrived at the crease with Australia in disarray at 5-92 against an excellent attack on a tricky pitch and proceeded to time the ball sublimely en route to 71 from 71 balls.
There was one particular moment that brought into sharp relief just how beautifully the South Australian was batting. Having cantered to 59 from 54 balls Carey had left the TV commentators scrambling for new adjectives to sprinkle through their constant praise. Then he went to a new level.
Carey got a 142 km/h short ball from one of the world’s scariest bowlers. That same man, Lockie Ferguson, had earlier dug the ball into the pitch and bullied Australian star David Warner back to the pavilion.
It was a different story with Carey. The left-hander picked the length so early, was in position so quickly, his balance was so good and his hands were so quick that he slapped the ball in front of midwicket for four. It was a stunning shot, the likes of which you typically only expect from elite international batsmen.
This commanding stroke was particularly telling given that Carey is better known in ODIs as a strong player of spin. He had been wonderfully fluent against the New Zealand spinners, so to see him boss an intimidating quick in this fashion indicated just how rich a vein of form Carey has tapped.
Not long ago Carey was viewed by many cricket observers, including yours truly, as one of the pressure points of this Australian team. A moderately successful, slow-scoring opening batsman at the domestic level, he was being asked to swiftly transform into a freewheeling late order hitter.
Carey had next to no experience in this role, whether in 50-over or T20 cricket. The demands of these two batting positions scarcely could have been different. Yet here we are, with Carey suddenly one of the world’s most valuable late order ODI batsmen.
Before you scoff, let me back up that claim. Batting down the order at number seven, the 27-year-old has churned out 427 runs at 47 at a strike rate of 103 in ODIs. What makes that record even more impressive is that every single one of those runs has been made away from home.
Carey, prior to making his international debut 17 months ago, had never played a game of professional cricket outside of Australia. So not only has he made a remarkable transition from old-school opener to a new-school finisher, but he’s completed that task in conditions foreign to him in every sense of the word.
The ground Carey has made has been so vast that he is starring in his first World Cup. To date, he has made 244 runs at 61 in this tournament, at a scorching strike rate of 110. And he hasn’t made cheap runs either. Against the West Indies Australia were lurching at 5-79 when Carey played a mature knock of 45 to keep Australia in the match.
Then he gave India a late scare by clobbering 55* from 35 balls against the world’s best ODI attack. Versus England, on a damp, seaming track, he sprinted to 38* from 27 balls to push Australia’s total from good to very good.
Then yesterday he arrived in the middle under immense pressure, with the Kiwi attack in sync, and played like it was a practice match. Carey may not go on to become an elite ODI cricketer. But right now he is playing like one, and at the pointy end of a World Cup right now is all that matters.
It must be noted that Carey yesterday built on a platform laid by Usman Khawaja. The veteran left-hander was unlucky to be pushed down the order in this tournament after excelling as an opener in the absence of banned stars David Warner and Steve Smith. Yesterday Khawaja ended up playing almost as an opener, coming out in the fifth over and guiding Australia from peril to safety to relative prosperity.
His knock of 88 at least gave Australia something to bowl at after they were undone by the ever-impressive Kiwi attack.
As I argued in my preview of this match, New Zealand’s attack right now is arguably the best in the tournament alongside India’s. Swing bowler Trent Boult (4-51), express quick Ferguson (2-49) and seamer Colin de Grandhomme (0-29 from eight overs) all were effective yesterday. This is a bowling unit that can take New Zealand deep into this tournament.
They were backed up by some astute captaincy by skipper Kane Williamson. And if you’re wondering why my article doesn’t delve into the second innings of this match, well, a man’s gotta sleep.