Australia are looking for a new Test wicketkeeper just days after the first Ashes Test, after Tim Paine took leave indefinitely.
Paine left his role as test captain on Friday after details of an explicit image and a series of obscene messages sent to a colleague in November 2017 became public.
He still intended to play the first Test on December 8, but after a week of intense scrutiny, the 36-year-old chose to pull the plug on his Ashes plans and step away from cricket.
The decision has prompted voters to fight for a Plan B with Alex Carey, Josh Inglis and Matthew Wade as the leading candidates to take Paine’s place.
All three wicketkeepers are talented players, but flawed opportunities at the test level for various reasons.
Here we take an in-depth look at the trio – and the outsiders who could offer an alternative option.
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He was considered by some to be the frontrunner, but has experienced a worrying dip in form at the worst possible time.
Carey’s last three innings for the Redbacks have seen him score at 0, 7 and 6, which has reduced his Sheffield Shield average this season to just 21.85.
Carey would be reluctant to make his Test debut under these circumstances, but in the end it would be the golden opportunity he has been waiting to arrive for so long.
Despite having long been hailed as a potential test wicketkeeper dough – even a captain as he has been at ODI level – Carey is now in his thirties and still waiting for his first chance.
As one of two goalkeepers selected last week in Australia A XI, logic dictates that he is among the top two candidates to replace Paine.
Since the other player is Inglis, who has not played a first-class match since September, there is one case that suggests Carey is standing alone.
But there is no denying that Carey’s form with the bat is a major concern and could make him responsible for Australia should he make his debut next month.
With all due respect to Sheffield Shield, the step up to meet Stuart Broad and James Anderson at Gabba in an Ashes Test is a big one.
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Working in Carey’s favor is that, unlike Inglis, he is an experienced international cricketer who has played 45 ODIs and 38 T20Is since January 2018.
His glove work has been up to standard – though no doubt no better than Paines’ – while he averages 36.45 in ODI cricket.
In addition, Carey was snatched for the T20 World Cup for Inglis, which could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
For so long, Carey has been unavailable to complete a lengthy run at Sheffield Shield; a curse by virtue of his white ball talents.
But Carey has five games on his back already this season, while Inglis has spent most of the last few weeks sitting on the bench in the UAE.
Nevertheless, Carey has not taken advantage of the opportunity, while his first-class average of 35.66 is respectable, but does not require test selection.
Also stuck in the mix is 26-year-old Western Australia goalkeeper Inglis.
Should Inglis be handed a baggy green on Gabba, it would close for a remarkably rapid increase for Inglis, who was miles away from test selection 12 months ago.
But Inglis enjoyed a 2020-21 breakout season for WA, the looting running across all formats to place himself solidly on the radar of national voters.
In the shield, he hit 585 runs at 73.12 from WA’s mid-to-lower order, including three centuries. Only Marnus Labuchagne reached triple digits several times last season.
Inglis was also briefly included in this year’s County Championship for Leicestershire. He did not harm his test credentials by having an average of 42.66 across three innings.
However, he eventually got a national look-in via the game’s shortest format.
Inglis got the top score in this year’s T20 Blast, smoking 531 runs at 48.27, including a strike rate of 175.82.
He was quickly added to Australia’s World Cup squad in place of Carey, who had battled with the bat in the Caribbean and Bangladesh.
The catch 22 is that the call has left Inglis in the unfortunate position that he has no recent red ball to lean on.
This week’s match between Western Australia and Tasmania came too early for Inglis, which meant Josh Philippe wore the gloves again.
He has now just played a first-class match since the middle of the year – and he failed to make a statement with the bat with scores of 28 and 13 against South Australia.
Unlike Carey, Inglis has never played an international.
The first test of an Ashes series following the sudden resignation of Australia’s test captain is one of the most difficult situations for Inglis to get a baggy green.
Nevertheless, Warne wrote earlier this month that he would choose Inglis to replace Paine.
“He has silky soft hands behind the stumps, he’s a 360 degree player with the bat and comes from three first-class hundreds last season for WA,” Warne wrote in Herald Sun..
“He’s a great team man that I saw firsthand at London Spirit this year. He’s 26th Bang, get him in.”
Australia’s voters have backed into an awkward corner here.
Selectors have only just considered Wade’s test papers stamped, and if they want to put their money where their mouth is, they will not fall back on Wade, who only has an average of 29.87 from 36 tests.
After all, what kind of message would it send to Carey and Inglis, who are at least on Australia’s A team over Wade?
On the other hand, who would loathe the electorate to take a U-turn on him given the circumstances?
After all, Wade would be the safe choice.
This is not to say that he would perform well for Australia, but rather that the public would certainly understand why such a decision could be made.
This is an Ashes series that Australia is expected to win. Any failure to do so could have serious consequences for certain individuals, including coach and pick Justin Langer, whose contract expires in mid-2022.
Selectors had never imagined debuting Carey or Inglis in the pot of an Ashes series.
Paine’s sudden departure therefore allows voters to return to the experienced Wade despite having first rejected him.
Wade understands Ashes, the opponent and test cricket in general, whereas neither Carey nor Inglis could say the same thing.
That said, history suggests that Wade is also a flawed option.
Wade has not worn the gloves for Australia in a test match since September 2017, months before he was dethroned by Paine.
His focus in the red ball game has since been on specialist batting, while his glove work has been reserved for cricket’s shorter formats.
In test cricket, Wade has an average of only 28.58 as the designated wicketkeeper from 22 matches.
Wade’s test statistics leave much to be desired, though his experience does not.
It’s worth noting here that Wade was the only Australian other than Smith to reach a century at the 2019 Ashes – and he did so twice.
Wade is far from a flashy player, and as a nearly 34-year-old, there may be no long-term benefit to keeping him in Test XI.
Nevertheless, the goal posts have changed since voters named Australia’s Ashes team without Wade last week.
Few people expect anyone besides Paine or the three players above to hold the wicket in the first test, but it’s worth mentioning some of the outsiders who do well in the shield.
Josh Philippe, though not a full-time wicketkeeper, briefly moved into the top spot on the run-charts this week with his 53 of 111 balls against Tasmania.
He now has 434 runs at 54.25 this season to go along with the 129 he made against Queensland earlier this month.
That century was made where the first test will be played on Gabba, nothing less.
He is only 24 years old and undoubtedly has a bright future – and voters have recently had no worries about lifting young players to the top level. Will Pucovski and Cameron Green both made their Test debut last season when they were in their early twenties.
Another alternative route would be to take another look at the Victoria veteran Peter Handscomb.
Handscomb did not get the best out of his 16 Tests for Australia, but his average of 38.91 is not unlike that of Travis Head and Usman Khawaja, who are stuck in the mix for a recall.
Most recently, he has an average of a solid 47.66 this season of the shield, while he has impressive second-half scores of 115 and 90 on his name.
Another outsider is Queenslands Jimmy Peirson which is one of just three players who have made several centuries this season.
He has on average the same as Handscomb, though three consecutive single-digit scores stopped his momentum somewhat.