There are many things Alex Carey is primed to achieve, including the possibility of captaining Australia in the future. But above all, the wicketkeeper-batsman hopes to mirror MS Dhoni, whom he observed at close quarters during India’s tour of Australia in 2018-19. While his team were at the wrong side of a tightly contested series, he took silent pleasure from watching Dhoni guide India to series-clinching wins in Adelaide and Melbourne.
“I guess if you look at the likes of the best in the world in MS Dhoni, you want to learn as much from him. And I was lucky enough last year to play against him and just the way he took the game deep and won games for India, so I aspire to do that one day,” Carey said.
At the time, Carey was Australia’s T20I joint vice-captain but by no means a World Cup certainty. The batting order itself was a bit of a revolving door, and Carey had found himself in four different positions in his first nine ODIs for Australia. He even opened against India at home. Though not unfamiliar with the job, having done it for his state side, just 47 runs in three matches could have hurt his chances so close to World-Cup selection.
Besides, Australia had enough options in the top order even before David Warner and Steven Smith’s return, which meant that Carey had a lot to lose. But as has often been the case In Carey’s life, things changed pretty quickly.
He was pushed down to No. 7 – something he said he enjoyed even at the time – from where he made an impression in India and the UAE, earning praise from batting consultant Ricky Ponting and, crucially, a ticket to the World Cup, where he went as the vice-captain.
He made 375 runs in the tournament, finishing just four runs behind Smith as the team’s fourth-highest run-getter. Two innings stood out: a counterattacking 85 against South Africa that eventually ended in defeat, and a gritty 46 against England in the semi-final that also ended in defeat. But the contrasting circumstances and the manner in which those two knocks were wrought encapsulated the range of requirements of the finisher that has been identified in him. Carey is motivated to get better at the job.
“I still have lots of areas of my game that I want to improve and get better at. I know I will probably bat middle to lower order, so it’s trying to finish games off for Australia,” Carey said.
“We have some world-class players at the top of the order with [Aaron] Finch, Warner and Smith, and Marnus [Labuschagne] is playing so well. Peter Handscomb had a great series here [in India] last year. I see myself coming in anywhere from five to seven. It’s one of those roles I want to get better at and hopefully win games for Australia. I had opportunities in the World Cup to take it a bit deeper – one against South Africa stands out for me – to be that matchwinner for Australia”
Carey’s importance in Australian cricket has risen exponentially over the last seven months. A push for greater exposure in a leadership role had him captain Australia A against the touring Pakistan side, after which he also led South Australia in two Sheffield Shield games in the absence of Travis Head. He has also led Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash this season.
In fact, there has been something of a clamour for his Test selection from past greats, including Adam Gilchrist, with debate persisting over Tim Paine’s spot. In fact, at the start of the season, Paine himself admitted that this could be his last home summer. But, with Australia winning all five Tests, it seems more likely that Paine will continue to lead Australia in the foreseeable future. However, whenever the time comes, Carey is not just seen as Paine’s replacement behind the stumps, but at least in some quarters of Australian cricket, also the heir apparent to Paine, the Test captain.
Carey – who bagged an IPL deal at Delhi Capitals this year – himself is happier staying in the moment. Perhaps he is acutely aware of how quickly things can change.
“When Australian cricket teams are winning, it’s hard to change. For me, it’s to do my absolute best here in the one-day team and hopefully be a part of the T20 World Cup, which is not too far away. I don’t look too far ahead. From my previous experiences with football, you know things can change pretty quickly.
“It’s about focusing on the important stuff and that’s playing good cricket in the coloured clothes, hopefully win a series in India and then go back and play some Big Bash cricket. Not too fazed by the external pressure of when and if. For me the last 12 months have been really enjoyable with a lot of learning, but still a long way to go.”