Aus vs Pak – Boxing Day Test – Back at MCG, Alex Carey will look to end year of up-and-down fortunes on a high

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It’s been quite the year for Alex Carey. He began 2023 fresh from the high of a maiden Test century at the MCG, then a short while later was confronted with challenges in front of and behind the stumps in India, where his glovework went to a new level.

Then there was a telling contribution to the World Test Championship final victory, followed by the drama of the Ashes where his fortunes pivoted around the stumping of Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s. He then lost what had appeared a pretty secure ODI position when a form slump coincided with the start of the World Cup.

Now it’s the MCG again, holding memories of that hundred against South Africa, with Australia flexing their muscles on home soil as they do so often and Carey himself hoping to cap a year of fluctuating fortunes with a strong performance to lift a 2023 average of 23.76.

He had shaped up well in Perth, forming a sixth-wicket stand of 90 with Mitchell Marsh on the second morning, which took the game away from Pakistan, before receiving a virtually unplayable ball from around the wicket by Aamer Jamal.

“The situation I came out in [last year against South Africa], the top order did a great job. I feel like that is batting, some ups and downs,” Carey said. “That’s going to happen at certain times but I felt like the last few weeks [I’ve been] training, preparing well, [and had] some time out in the middle and a Shield game as well.”

He also kept tidily with seven dismissals – although the crucial edge off Babar Azam in the first innings nearly squeezed out – and in the process brought up a century behind the stumps in Test cricket.

“My job is to do the best I can behind the stumps to try to support our amazing bowlers,” he said. “Hopefully a few more out here against Pakistan on Boxing Day. It’s been a lot of fun. Lots of different conditions from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, England. It’s been pretty cool.”

For Australia, the Melbourne Test brings to a close a year that presented them with a series of major prizes on offer in the format. They came away with two – the World Test Championship title and the retention of the Ashes – while falling to a 2-1 defeat in India and missing out on winning outright in England for the first time since 2001.

“I haven’t been able to play a lot of T20 cricket – which has been good, of course, you’re playing Test cricket – but would love to get the opportunity to play some more T20 cricket during the winter wherever that may be”

Alex Carey

“India unfortunately we didn’t win that series but to win a Test match over there is hard and we were able to do that [in Indore],” Carey reflected. “Retaining the Ashes, [we] would have liked to have won them, but to retain them again on their home soil was a great achievement. A World Cup victory and now a pretty successful start to the summer. Some players getting pretty big IPL contracts as well, so good on them. It’s been a successful year. For this group, it’s not over yet. There is no sort of end goal for this group. It’s a journey at the moment. It’s a lot of fun.”

For Carey, the major personal disappointment was the World Cup omission after the opening match against India, when he was replaced by Josh Inglis. It would now seem tough for him to retain his spot in that format, at least in the short term, but he has clarity from the selectors on their decision and the reasons behind it.

“With our selection panel, they’ve been really honest with every decision that they make,” Carey said. “Basically you can ask any question you want. Don’t leave any stone unturned – it’s your career, ask the questions, they’re really open to it. They’ve been honest with it the whole time.

“It never makes it easier though to hear you’re going to be left out. You get time to reflect and then sit down and speak to each and every one of them to find out the reasons. And then all you can do is go to work and try to improve in certain areas.

“I think you want to be able to have a panel that can have those honest conversations. You don’t want to be going to bed at night wondering why – and I didn’t. Although you still don’t like to hear it you’re able to talk through it, move on and try to help the team win the World Cup.”

Carey has no intention on focusing purely on red-ball cricket and is keen to try and get more T20 experience during the off season. Australia do not play Test cricket from mid-March to late November, while Carey would seem unlikely to feature in the T20 World Cup squad.

“I still feel like I’ve had some pretty solid performances the last 12 months in one-day cricket,” he said. “The timings of the leaner trot led to that decision from the selection panel. But absolutely I feel like I’ve got a lot of one-day cricket and T20 cricket still left in me.

“I haven’t been able to play a lot of T20 cricket – which has been good, of course, you’re playing Test cricket – but would love to get the opportunity to play some more T20 cricket during the winter wherever that may be.”

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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