Alex Carey could play as a batsman in this year’s Ashes and both he and Josh Inglis could fit into Australia’s Test team after captain Tim Paine retires.
Arguably the best gloveman in the Sheffield Shield, Inglis is now also thrashing attacks with 501 runs at 83 this season, while Carey could press for a batting berth in the Ashes via an English county cricket stint this winter.
The debate about who should succeed Paine behind the stumps when he calls it quits – likely in the next year or so – has ignored the possibility of both Carey and Inglis playing Tests together. So let me explain.
After going unsold at the IPL auction, Carey this month said he’s now looking for a county cricket contract and, given his tremendous all-format abilities, it would be a surprise if he finds no taker.
Carey is widely considered the gloveman being groomed to replace Paine, who turns 37 this year. But the 29-year-old’s scorching batting form could yet make him an option to play as a batsman in the Ashes, particularly if he goes to the UK and piles up runs in county cricket.
Despite being denied regular exposure to red-ball cricket due to his limited-overs international responsibilities, Carey has made massive strides with the blade in the longest format.
In the past three years, Carey has churned out 1017 runs at 57 in first-class cricket. That includes four tons from just 13 matches. Earlier this summer, against a world-class Indian pace attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, Carey looked slick as he made 58 and 32 for Australia A.
And, just a few weeks ago, Carey cracked 125 against a Test-standard NSW attack of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Sean Abbott and Harry Conway. So he hasn’t been padding his stats by bullying depleted Shield attacks.
Carey’s first-class stats in those past three years are especially impressive given he’s never had the luxury of an extended run at the format to build momentum. If Carey is able to go to the UK this winter and get six or seven first-class matches under his belt, that could just be the chance he needs to press his case for Test selection as a batsman.
Working in Carey’s favour in that regard is Australia’s limited middle-order options. Cameron Green appears to be a lock for one of those two Ashes spots. Aside from Travis Head, there’s no standout contender for that second middle-order role.
Matt Wade didn’t capitalise on his long run in the Test team and wasn’t even selected in the Australian squad for the now-cancelled Test tour of South Africa. Meanwhile, former Test batsmen Nic Maddinson and Kurtis Patterson have both had very disappointing Shield seasons, averaging 32 and 22 respectively.
Usman Khawaja has regained form but, at 34 years old, it seems the Australian selectors have moved on from him. Moises Henriques is also in fine Shield form and right now is probably Head’s main challenger to bat alongside Green in the Ashes.
But Henriques turns 35 years old just weeks after the Ashes ends, making him very much a short-term pick. So none of Henriques, Wade, Patterson, Maddinson or Khawaja are hugely enticing middle-order Test options at present.
That has created an opening for Carey to bolt into Ashes contention if he finishes this Shield season strongly and then manages to secure a county gig and shines in the UK.
There are several things that could make Carey an attractive prospect to bat at five or six in Tests. Firstly, he’s a specialist middle-order batsman, having batted between five and seven for most of his first-class career.
Secondly, he is a well-rounded player – Carey owns a solid defence, has a very wide range of strokes and is comfortable against both pace and spin.
Thirdly, he has multiple gears to his batting. Carey has shown in his first-class career he has the patience and technique to play dogged innings when required. But he also has a dynamic side to his batting which he can indulge when his side is on top or needs to counterattack.
Fourthly, Carey’s leadership is clearly rated very highly by Cricket Australia. Within just nine months of debuting for his country, Carey was made vice-captain of both the Australian ODI and T20I sides.
Fifthly, in comparison to several of the other middle-order Test contenders, Carey has significant international experience, having represented Australia 72 times.
Lastly, Carey has displayed an ability to perform under great pressure in ODIs. He was incredible at the 2019 World Cup, selected for the team of the tournament after making 375 runs at 62 with a blazing strike rate of 104. That included several crucial knocks where he arrived at the crease with Australia in trouble.
And then, in his third most recent ODI innings, Carey helped pull off a miraculous series win in England last September. Australia were 5-76 chasing 303 before Carey’s 106 guided the tourists to victory along with a remarkable Glenn Maxwell ton.
If anything, Carey has looked at his best in ODIs when he’s been faced with a crisis. He does not look like a player who would be overawed by being handed a batting berth in the Ashes.
Combined with the fact he’s in career-best first-class form, it’s not such a crazy idea.
It is not silly, either, to consider that both Carey and Inglis could potentially play together in the same Test team. With three tons from just nine Shield innings this year, Inglis looks as though he’s finally unlocked his massive potential as a red-ball batsman. What’s more is that he’s scored those runs at a scorching strike rate of 82.
As I argued in a recent piece for The Roar, this destructive batting style of Inglis could add some much-needed variety to an otherwise quite one-paced Aussie Test batting line-up.
It should be noted this is Inglis’ first dominant Shield season. He now needs to back it up with another fine campaign next summer. But if Inglis can do that and Carey keeps churning out runs, then don’t be surprised to see both of them in the Test team next year.