With only one week to go until the Ashes begins, former Australian captain Michael Clarke believes there is only one choice the selectors can make to replace the departed Tim Paine as wicketkeeper for the first Test.
Welcome back to Ashes Scout, where The Roar keeps you up to speed with everything you need to know from Australia and abroad as the tension dials up to 11 and the countdown begins in earnest.
The identity of Paine’s replacement with the gloves following the former captain’s shock call to take a mental health break and rule himself out of at least the start of the series continues to be shrouded in mystery.
Vying for the top job are South Australian ‘keeper Alex Carey, Paine’s long-term heir apparent and the ODI gloveman; as well as in-form Western Australian Josh Inglis, who was named in Australia’s triumphant T20 World Cup squad after a dominant 2021 in all forms of cricket.
Aussie assistant coach Andrew McDonald did nothing to shed any light in a recent press conference, saying the wicketkeeper’s spot in the XI was ‘really still up in the air’.
“I think if it was clear then there would have been an announcement, so I’m sure that the selectors will be taking all the information in the last game today, I think, domestically before we switch out our focus into the Test match,” McDonald said.
However, Clarke, who captained Australia to a 5-0 Ashes whitewash over England in the 2013-14 series, believes picking Carey is now a ‘no-brainer’, following the Redback’s scintillating century in Sunday’s Marsh Cup match against Queensland, to emphatically end a poor run of form.
“The dude just made a hundred!” Clarke said on Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“Talk about under pressure: Alex Carey walks out, under the most amount of pressure, everyone fighting for a job, people questioning, ‘Is he next in line?’… and he makes a hundred.
“Come on. This guy is ready.”
While admitting his knowledge of Inglis is limited to ‘a handful of short-form games’, Clarke believes the Western Australian is a longer-term option for international responsibility.
“I don’t know Josh Inglis at all… he looks like he’s very talented, he’s got all the shots in the world… he might have a bright future,” Clarke said.
“But right now, to me, it’s a no-brainer.”
McDonald isn’t letting Carey’s Marsh Cup ton do all the talking, though, saying Inglis has been ‘starved of opportunities’ for a similar game-changing knock himself.
“It’s white-ball cricket, but any form is good form as we like to say,” McDonald said of Carey’s effort.
“Obviously we’ve got Josh Inglis in camp with us at the moment, so he’s starved for match opportunities. Alex Carey was named in Australia A squad as a keeper as well. So we’ve got some options.
“And that’s the beauty of it, it’s always better to have options than no options. So look forward to whichever way that goes and the start of someone’s career.”
For his part, Inglis is confident his rapid rise into international contention – he wasn’t in either Australia’s 19-man Test or 18-man T20I squads named in January this year – has left him primed to make an impact should he get the nod.
“Last season was obviously a standout for myself – it’s probably the first really good season I’ve had,” Inglis said on Monday of a Sheffield Shield campaign that netted 585 runs, three centuries and an average of over 73, on top of an outstanding BBL with the Perth Scorchers.
“It’s quite crazy to think how far I have come in a short space of time. It’s really exciting for myself.
“I’m feeling really confident about my game at the moment. Given the opportunity, I feel like I’d do a good job.”
One way or the other, Australia will be welcoming a Test debutant into the Ashes cauldron next week.
Smith reveals legend’s sledge played a part in Ashes heroics
Newly minted vice-captain Steve Smith has lifted the lid on his battle with anxiety immediately following the ‘Sandpapergate’ scandal that saw him stripped of the captaincy and handed a one-year ban; and how a cutting remark from Australian great Ian Chappell set him on a path back to his brilliant best.
In his own column for News Corp’s Code Sports, Smith wrote how receiving the deputy role to Pat Cummins following Paine’s resignation had been ‘like a weight… taken off my shoulders’, after years of speculation over whether he’d ever return to a leadership position.
“There had been so many questions in recent years about, ‘Is Steve going to be involved in the leadership again?’ so to have clarity on it was quite a relief,” Smith wrote.
“It’s an absolute honour to be asked to vice-captain but, as I’ve learned along the way, you don’t necessarily need an official title to be a leader within a team.”
Smith, who is sharing his experiences in the aftermath of ‘Sandepapergate’ to schoolchildren as part of the Gotcha4Life mental health charity created by media personality Gus Worland, also opened up on his issues with ‘what I know now were anxiety attacks’ following the Cape Town catastrophe in March 2018.
“I had never been someone who shared how I was feeling with others, so when the controversy after South Africa exploded, I was not emotionally equipped to deal with it,” Smith wrote.
The darkest period was the time between being handed my ban and fronting the press conference to talk about it.
“There was a shortness of breath at times, to the point where it felt like I was struggling to breathe, and I know now that they were anxiety attacks.
“I had never experienced anything like it before.”
Smith likens the feeling to ‘blowing into a balloon’, saying that ‘the pressure builds and builds and builds’, and that ‘you have to find a way to release it or you, like the balloon, will pop’.
He credits Worland and his work with Gotcha4Life in helping him become a more well-rounded person away from the cricket pitch.
“I lost a lot in that period [after Sandpapergate], and that was fair enough because what happened in South Africa was wrong. But I think I gained a lot at the same time and I think it’s made me a better person,” Smith wrote.
“I feel more balanced rather than just being cricket crazy the whole time.”
Smith also credits a comment from former Australian captain Ian Chappell during his time out of the game, claiming he’d never be the same player following his return, as fuelling his desire to get back to the top of the sport.
“I’m not sure that he will be as good a player as he was, because confidence is a big part of his game and that’s going to have taken a fair hit,” Chappell told Sports Sunday in late 2018. Smith took the jibe personally.
“In the first couple of series after my ban, I was probably more driven by a motivation to prove my critics wrong,” Smith wrote in his column.
“Ian Chappell had written a column saying I wouldn’t be the same batter after my year away from the game. I cut it out, stuck it on my bathroom mirror and looked at it every morning and night when I brushed my teeth.”
Smith went on to torment England in the 2019 Ashes series, piling on 774 runs at an average of 110.57 to be the hero of Australia’s defence of the urn.
“It felt like I was saying to the critics: ‘I haven’t lost it. I’m still here’,” Smith wrote of his sensational series.
“It was a good feeling after everything that had gone on.”
‘This might be the end’: The moment that had Ben Stokes fearing for his life
As his preparation for a Test return at the Gabba continues, England star Ben Stokes has revealed a bizarre recent incident led to a near-death experience.
Writing in The Mirror, the gun all-rounder, who hasn’t played any form of cricket since July after undergoing finger surgery and taking a mental health break from the game, has opened up on a frightening moment when he choked on a tablet, and was left fearing for his life.
“[The tablet] went down the wrong way, and got stuck in my windpipe causing me to choke horribly before the glands in my face went into overdrive to flush it out,” Stokes wrote.
“Until it actually came out, I thought this might be the end. We’ve all had those moments when something gets stuck in the throat.
“Without going into too much detail I have never seen as much saliva as I did on Sunday morning, it was a genuinely frightening experience.
“The team doctor came to see me straight away and she explained what had happened with the body reacting the way it did. I’m glad it did, even though I was a mess.”
While Stokes didn’t reveal precisely when and where the incident occurred, it’s believed to have taken place in the team hotel on the Gold Coast.
Stokes has been a tormentor with both bat and ball for Australia since making his debut in England’s ill-fated 2013-14 series whitewash down under, but not even the most ardent baggy green fans would have been hoping for the 30-year old’s series to be ended in that fashion.
26 days to get some colour in my legs….???????? https://t.co/HEwTb7Ojm6
— Ben Stokes (@benstokes38) November 12, 2021
It wasn’t the only medical scare Stokes has had in recent days, with the all-rounder revealing a painful blow in the nets also left him fearing his tour could be over before it had begun.
“I got hit on the forearm by a ball from our batting coach Jonathan Trott. I was in agony, and I couldn’t lift it thereafter. I thought it was broken,” Stokes wrote.
“Thankfully the pain and reaction settled down once I was back in the dressing room and the physios could be sure it wasn’t actually a break.
“It was only after I got back to my hotel room that I took stock of what a day I’d had. The adrenaline had worn off and I was exhausted.
“Happy that I’m here to tell the tale, but hoping that my pre-Test dramas are now over.”