If timing is everything in cricket – and it is – then this week of Australian selection guesswork and speculation has reminded us all that it remains a black and white issue.
There’s just no grey area to this. You either have good timing, or really bloody terrible timing.
Take Western Australian keeper-bat Josh Inglis, for example.
This time last week, he’d have been pretty happy with his lot in life. Having just returned from the UAE with a Twenty20 World Cup winners medal, the prospect of him being playing an Ashes Test this summer wouldn’t have been a particularly strong one.
Even though Tim Paine’s textual indiscretion had already cost him the Test captaincy, there was a train of thought that he might still be picked to play out the series that was always going to his international swansong. Nathan Lyon couldn’t make the point any clearer, offering “I can’t say it any more times, Tim is the best keeper in the world” just last Thursday.
If only injury to the Tasmanian gloveman was going to stop him seeing out the summer, Inglis had the season ahead of him to start building his case for whatever timeframe a replacement for Paine would be needed.
This time last week, however, Inglis’ summer was one day away from becoming very, very different.
So too was Alex Carey’s. But he had an ace up his sleeve that would soon become very handy indeed.
No sooner had Cricket Australian announced last Friday that Paine had informed them he would be “stepping away from cricket for a period of time” were fans and pundits alike scrambling to look up which games likely candidates were about to play.
Already in Brisbane with the Australia A squad while quarantining after returning from Dubai, Inglis could only look forward to the scheduled three day intra-squad game before the First Test.
Carey, on the other hand, was still in South Australian colours back in Adelaide, not due to head to Brisbane for another few days, and now with a state one-day game of instant importance in front of him.
And we all know what he did. I tuned in around lunchtime on Sunday with Carey coasting through the seventies and looking incredibly good against the Queensland attack. So good in fact that I didn’t dare to mention how good he was batting on Twitter, not daring to be responsible for undoing his hard work.
(A point proven when he was bowled out for 101 barely even a minute after I tweeted how good his century was.)
And now, just to prove the importance of me not commenting earlier, Carey is out bowled (Marnus) for 101…
— Brett McKay (@BMcSport) November 28, 2021
Having compiled a string of single-figure scores in the preceding month, Carey had just reminded everyone that he was far from a spent force.
“It wasn’t a case of ‘which end do I hold the bat?’ I still felt like I knew what I was doing,” Carey said this week, now in Brisbane.
“I felt in a really good place mentally. I was hitting the ball well.”
Carey’s timing couldn’t have been much better.
Inglis wasn’t just behind the eight-ball now, he was behind several eight-balls.
Just when a Test debut was closer than it had ever been, Inglis hadn’t played a First Class game in two months and hadn’t batted in a game at all since Australia played New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up game more than a month ago.
Also, it was already so wet in Brisbane that pairs of animals were gathering in Queen Street Mall. It was proper ark-building weather in south-east Queensland. England’s own intra-squad matches this week have seen little more than one session of play over the course of five days.
Suddenly, ‘hitting them well in the nets’ has never been so important – but even then, this first Ashes Test already looms as one where preparations could be completely confined to indoors.
And it now feels like the Australian selectors have shown their hand early.
While Carey continued his preparations, Inglis was among a handful of Western Australians who flew west to see family for a few days having completed quarantine requirements, and with the weather now impacting Australia’s planned intra-squad game as well.
The dots practically and quickly joined themselves, and if all the ‘Carey is expected to debut’ reports over the last 24 hours haven’t convinced you, the complete lack of correction of that reporting should.
It will remain debatable how much impact Carey’s one-day hundred in Adelaide last weekend had on the selectors’ thinking, but it surely can’t have hurt. His long apprenticeship, likened by his South Australian coach Jason Gillespie to that which Adam Gilchrist served for several years before succeeding Ian Healy, looks set to pay off.
Inglis’ reward for edging ahead of Carey before the Twenty20 World Cup is to have had no opportunity to push his Test credentials when he needed one the most, and through absolutely no fault of his own.
Alex Carey’s timing looks perfect, while for Josh Inglis… yep, his looks really bloody terrible.