Alex Carey is poised to secure the precious baggy green cap that will vindicate AFL legend Kevin Sheedy’s blunt message that he should give up on football a decade ago.
The wicket-keeper who blasted an impressive Marsh Cup century for South Australia on Sunday has the backing of Cricket Australia’s selectors to take over from Tim Paine and could be confirmed as Australia’s new No.7 in the next 48 hours.
The West Australians from Australia’s T20 Word Cup squad, including wicket-keeping rival Josh Inglis, flew home on Tuesday on a pre-approved trip to visit their families and while Inglis can return at any time, all signs point to Carey keeping at the Gabba next Wednesday.
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World Cup hero Mitch Marsh also flew home on Tuesday, but is booked to return to Queensland early next week for the Australia A tour match against the England Lions.
While boom youngster Inglis had support from one of the three selectors at the weekend, it now appears the battle-hardened Carey will live out his boyhood dream after serving a long apprenticeship as Paine’s understudy.
Carey, 30, captained ‘Team GWS’ – which later became Greater Western Sydney – in 2011, but failed to win a place on the inaugural list for the club’s AFL entry the following year.
One former Giants staffer remembered Sheedy declaring after Carey’s first or second training session that the inside midfielder was the next ‘Smokin’ Joe Misiti, who was a dual premiership Essendon star.
But Sheedy, a handy leg-spinner bowler in his day, broke the news to Carey that would be delisted over a coffee at the Rooty Hill RSL after the 2011 TAC Cup season.
“I told him we’ve got 20 midfielders, have a crack at cricket, mate,” Sheedy told News Corp on Tuesday.
“You’ve got to play the odds here for a person of your height and your weight and your talent.
“So if you want to be in the best talent you’re going to have to beat Toby Greene, the captain (Stephen Coniglio), and we’ve just knocked off the (No.1 draft pick) in Tom Scully.
“So we’ve got all these midfielders and I said, ‘If you want to have a decent crack at a sport, have a crack at cricket’.
“He was a midfielder because then I had Zac Williams at halfback, and he was pick 198.
“It was trying to get people placed so you don’t stuff up their lives. The Giants gave a chance for someone’s career to flourish at another sport.
“He’s a guy that missed out on a Grand Final for the Giants (2019), but he may get recompensed with a Test career.”
Former Giants recruiter and star talent spotter Neville Stibbard has been credited as the man who initially converted Carey to the winter code.
Stibbard flew to Adelaide twice to meet with a teenager who was making runs for fun at Glenelg Cricket Club and sent him emails outlining that an AFL career at the Giants was paved with a shot at history.
“They (emails) said you could be a premiership player of a start-up club, which would be history-making to your grandkids,” Stibbard told News Corp on Tuesday.
“There will be photos of the first Giants and Suns premiership sides in the offices forever, and I took him through the boys he’d be playing with.
“He was certainly in that group. As a young person he was a quality person. I found him engaging to talk to and he’ll represent Australia well.”
The Giants had signed the likes of Adam Treloar (now at Western Bulldogs), Dylan Shiel (Essendon), Jeremy Cameron (Geelong) and Nathan Wilson (Fremantle).
Stibbard CC’d AFL talent boss Kevin Sheehan on the emails, who told the Giants: “If you think he’s that good, go and get him” and also helped secure his signature.
Sheedy’s son Sam Sheedy, who worked as a recruiter at the Giants, remembered what a professional Carey was.
“Very talented, very dedicated,” Sam Sheedy told News Corp on Tuesday.
“Just a little bit slow with his running capacity. Speed and probably agility cost him – but he’s good behind the wickets.
“He was always going to make it at the top level no matter what he put his heart and soul into.”
Carey’s elevation into Australia’s Test team will be widely celebrated in AFL circles given how far and wide his former teammates have spread.
He would become the first Australian wicket-keeper to make his Test debut on home soil since Adam Gilchrist in 1999.
But the popular gloveman has already done Australia proud, becoming the country’s 26th ODI captain earlier this year and with his heroics at the 2019 World Cup in England, where he was named in the ICC’s team of the tournament.
Carey’s leadership streak and seemingly flawless character will be important in the wake of the Paine sexting scandal.
While Carey has missed out in the Sheffield Shield this summer, he averaged 59.7 in the previous three seasons as he smacked four centuries, which coach Justin Langer places a premium on.
Carey firms for Test berth as T20 triumph cruels Inglis
Alex Carey’s match practice and Josh Inglis’ lack of it could end up being the decisive factor in the crunch call over Australia’s new Ashes wicketkeeper.
Selectors may still be a few days away from announcing who Tim Paine’s replacement will be behind the stumps for the first Test, so nothing is certain, but Carey’s last-start 100 for South Australia was a timely reminder he is the option that comes with a recent form guide.
There is a feeling inside the selection room that Inglis, 26, is the better gloveman and possibly the likely longer-term keeper – particularly looking forward to next year’s tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka where catching to Nathan Lyon on dusty, spinning decks will be tricky business.
But as it stands a week out from the first Ashes Test, Inglis simply hasn’t had any match practice to speak of, having served as Australia’s stand-by wicketkeeper at the Twenty20 World Cup without getting a game.
Carey’s batting form for South Australia has been patchy in Sheffield Shield cricket, but he does have two hundreds in the one-day competition and he is well and truly into the rhythm of the summer, and also provides the certainty of big match experience as a seasoned white ball international.
Inglis played one Sheffield Shield match for Western Australia before flying to the World Cup, but prior to that his performances – although very strong – were in the English Hundred competition in August.
There is also a feeling that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Inglis to have another domestic season performing now that the spotlight is on him – but selectors are yet to make a final call and they could swing back towards the English-born gloveman.
Inglis has been preparing to play for Australia since he joined the squad at the T20 World Cup and says his mindset doesn’t change now he could be on the verge of his Test debut.
More rain is also expected to wipe out what loomed as a final battle for the Test place in a three-day intra-squad clash, and Inglis said he hadn’t been given any indication which way selectors might go.
“I don’t know when they are going to make their decision. I’ll find out and then get my head around where I’m going to be playing,” Inglis said.
“The whole time I had the mindset of preparing to play just in case, that’s the same here. It’s either the Test match or the Aussie A game, so I have cricket I need to prepare for. That’s my mindset at training and how its been for a while.
“I feel in a really good place with my game at the moment and if given the opportunity I feel really confident.”
Inglis, who was born in Leeds, has stormed his way into national contention on the back of a huge last summer that included three Sheffield Shield centuries for WA and a season average of 73.12
The 26-year-old reaped the rewards of working with a sports psychologist after wanting to find the best way to face more balls, to bat for longer and get the most out of himself.
He said it was a new-found method he could draw on should he be picked despite not having played a game of cricket since September.
“That’s the beauty of it, I can replicate what I am doing in training and in games. It’s not something that just comes out during a game,” he said.
“I was getting a lot of starts and not going on. I went 25 Shield games without making a hundred. I went to Matt Burgan our psych and spoke in depth about that and it was brilliant. It changed my game and allowed me to build a couple of big innings.
“I am trying to use it every time I pick up a bat to help myself. It’s before the ball is bowled, when it’s bowled and then after it. It’s making sure I am replicating it as much as possible.
“I haven’t played much cricket but I played a Shield game before I came to Queensland (for scores of 28 and 13) and I’ve faced plenty of red balls, so I am ready to go.”
Inglis has a career first-class average of 34.03 in 45 matches that puts him neck and neck with Carey, who averages 34.73. Before Carey’s one-day century he made scores of 0, 7 and 6 in the Shield for SA.
“It’s quite crazy to think how far I have come in a short space of time but it’s really exciting,” Inglis said.
“I feel like if I was given the opportunity I’d do a good job.”
Inglis, who grew up in England and moved to Australia when he was 14, said there would be some “banter over the dinner table” with his parents should he be picked to play.
But there were no divided loyalties anymore.
“Growing up in England I supported England, but that’s all changed now,” he said.
“Once you start building your way up in to professional cricket, it’s tough to be trying to play for one country and not supporting them.
“So that changes pretty quickly.”