Alex Carey is the man Australian cricket didn’t ask for – but certainly needs.
Before Tim Paine’s abrupt departure from international cricket, another man, Josh Inglis, was making a late run to replace the Australian Test captain down the track.
Already in the World Cup-winning T20 squad, Inglis had some big names in his corner, including Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne.
Paine’s decision to step down on the eve of the Ashes, however, saw Australian selectors give Carey – the then-experienced 30-year-old who had starred at the 2019 ODI World Cup – the first crack.
After a squeaky-clean opening in Brisbane, Carey battled throughout the remainder of the Ashes as he failed to make any reasonable contribution with the bat.
More importantly, catches went down while others were left to sail between him and David Warner at first slip.
One year later, having enhanced his reputation – first in Pakistan and then in Sri Lanka – Carey shapes as a crucial figure for Australian cricket in 2023.
His elegant and composed century on day three was a sight of sheer beauty.
He drove with elegance and timed the ball well from the outset when he went out to bat on Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday he drove the ball square and then down the ground, racing to a half-century with effortless shots through the off-side.
Keshav Maharaj came to Australia with a reputation as a wicket-taker and competent spinner.
But after being treated with contempt by David Warner, Carey never looked like being out to the left-armer as he pushed and swept the Maharaj with ease.
CLICK HERE for a seven-day free trial to watch international cricket on KAYO
Later, South Africa’s quicks attempted to ruffle him up by dropping short.
Eventually, it worked, but not before he became just the second wicketkeeper in history, after the late Rodney Marsh, to reach three figures in a Test at the MCG.
“Beautiful scenes for Alex Carey,” former Australian keeper Adam Gilchrist said in commentary for Fox Cricket.
“He becomes only the second wicket-keeper in Test history to bring up a Test match century in a Boxing Day Test.
“He joins a great, a late great. This Test match is all about Shane Warne, and rightly so, but there’s a man looking down up above.
“Rodney William Marsh, the only other wicketkeeper, not just for Australia but in Test cricket history, to score a Test match century [at the MCG]. What company to be keeping.”
Carey looked at ease out in the middle.
Relaxed, easy on the eye and technically strong, Carey looked every bit a Test cricketer. Not bad for a bloke who grew up wanting to play in the AFL and only left Greater Western Sydney on the advice of then-coach and footy icon Kevin Sheedy.
“Bats at seven, could bat three with this technique,” Kerry O’Keeffe said on Fox Cricket, as the left-hander got on top of a short ball and hooked to the boundary to move into the nineties.
“How clinical was this? Short, sat up, weight transfer spot on, controlled it into the ground beautifully, split the gap. Deserves a hundred.”
A score of 8/575 suggests the MCG wicket was a good one to bat on, but beyond the stats was a strong quartet of fast bowlers at Dean Elgar’s disposal.
Another Australian great in Mark Waugh said his century should not be underestimated.
“Just from a pure batting point of view, it’s been an elite innings,” Waugh said on Fox Cricket.
“Just shot play, strokeplay, technique, and when you’re sitting around for a long time, it’s not easy to come in at No.7.
“Six and seven are difficult batting positions. You often get the second new ball. He’s weathered that storm. He’s sailed through it.”
Carey’s form is significant because with a four-Test series against India on the horizon, his contributions will be significant.
A fine sweeper of the ball, Carey plays spin better than most of Australia’s batters.
While Australia are unlikely to entertain playing five specialist bowlers in India, his ability with the bat will give Cummins’ men options and flexibility in the order.
Rewind back to 2001, and Adam Gilchrist scoring a breathtaking century against India in Mumbai to help lead Australia to a series lead.
Gilchrist struggled for the remainder of the series, but his contributions three years later, captaining in the absence of Ricky Ponting, proved crucial as Australia conquered the ‘final frontier’.
“Junior [Waugh], I agree wholeheartedly about your thoughts on Alex Carey being able to bat at No.6 longer term or, if the situation requires it, for a one-off Test or perhaps a series,” Gilchrist said.
“India coming up, that might be an option.
“It’s all about balance and the value it’s going to add either with an extra bowler and how the tail looks. I think he’s skilful enough and has a modern game and the skills that go with it to occupy that top six position.”
By reaching three figures, Carey did what Paine could not by scoring a Test century.
The fact the monkey is no longer on his back can only bode well for Australia ahead of a crucial, career-defining year.
Help shape the future of The Roar – take our quick survey with a chance to WIN!