Clayton Murzello: Carey time for Oz's Ashes squad?
Two weeks before the Ashes series, hosts Australia have not decided who their wicketkeeper will be.
Will it be Tasmania's Matthew Wade, who kept during the last series in Bangladesh or Peter Nevill, the New South Welshman, who was the glovesman during the last Ashes series in 2015. There's also a good chance that South Australia's rising star Alex Carey will make his debut at the Gabba on November 23. Carey set a Sheffield Shield record of 59 victims last season and is rated a very sound wicketkeeper.
South Australia's Alex Carey rues a missed chance during Day Four of a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales last year. Pic/Getty Images
Australia's former off-spinner Ashley Mallett told me yesterday from Adelaide that although the selectors may continue with Wade, he would have Carey, 26, in the playing XI because he is a far better 'keeper than Wade. And Nevill, who is superior to the incumbent, according to Mallett, has gone out of favour.
If Carey is handed a baggy green at the Gabba, he will become the first Australian wicketkeeper since John Maclean to be blooded in the opening Test of an Ashes series.
The inclusion and exclusion stories of Australian wicketkeepers are fascinating right from the country's first ever Test stumper, Jack Blackham, who made his debut with all his other teammates against England at Melbourne in 1877. Australia's then fast bowler Fred 'Demon' Spofforth refused to play in that inaugural Test since he believed Billy Murdoch was a better man to have behind the stumps. However, Spofforth changed his opinion of Blackham when he played the second Test of that historic series.
A hundred years later, Rod Marsh sat firmly in the seat of Australia's first choice wicketkeeper. The following season, the selectors picked Steve Rixon for the job when Marsh joined Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Rixon kept well against India in 1977-78, but the selectors included Maclean for the 1978-79 Ashes opener in Brisbane, his home ground. The Brisbane fans were delighted about Maclean's inclusion.
Eight years earlier, Maclean was the local favourite to replace Brian Taber in Bill Lawry's team that took on Ray Illingworth's side at the Gabba where the curtains opened for the 1970-71 Ashes. But Don Bradman & Co picked 23-year-old Western Australian Rodney Marsh to become Australia's youngest ever wicketkeeper and he didn't enjoy a warm reception from the Brisbane crowd. To make matters worse, Marsh made a mess of things on the second day of the Test when he dropped key batsmen John Edrich, Keith Fletcher and Basil D'Oliveira. The "we want MacLean" cries got louder.
By the time the series progressed to Sydney, the cries changed to "We want Taber" and Marsh got christened Iron Gloves by a journalist. Probably, the only sympathy Marsh got in that series was when Lawry declared the innings closed in Melbourne with him on 92. But he wasn't too disappointed. "I wasn't at all upset about it. In fact, I was so delighted to have at last done something worthwhile in the series that I couldn't have cared less. I expected Bill to declare long before so I guess I was lucky to have even reached the nineties," Marsh wrote in his autobiography, You'll Keep. Marsh was grateful to the selectors for persisting with him. Had they not, he certainly wouldn't have ended up with a record 355 dismissals when he retired from Test cricket in 1983-84.
A season before Marsh replaced Taber, there was a chance of Ray 'Slug' Jordon keeping wickets for Australia in the Port Elizabeth Test of the 1969-70 tour of South Africa. Captain Bill Lawry asked his vice-captain Ian Chappell about getting Jordon in the playing XI for the final Test of that series. To Lawry's amazement, Chappell refused to be in the team in that eventuality. Apparently, on the earlier tour of India, during the South Zone v Australians game at Bangalore, Jordan knocked a stump forward and hoodwinked the umpire into believing that Erapalli Prasanna was bowled. That's how Jordan missed out on becoming Australia's 18th Test wicketkeeper.
Thirty years later, Adam Gilchrist replaced local favourite Ian Healy for the opening Test against Pakistan in Brisbane in 1999. The selectors denied Healy the pleasure of playing his farewell Test in front of his home crowd and that led to a high-pressure situation for debutant Gilchrist. First he was unpopular for replacing Tim Zoehrer at Western Australia after shifting from New South Wales. Then, he took Healy's place in the one-day side.
Like Healy, Gilchrist ended up being an all-time great and like all battle-scarred stumpers, he believes selectors should give their wicketkeepers a decent run before reaching out for the axe. Apart from his wicketkeeping and batting abilities, Wade is known to be good at sledging. It will be a pity if his definitive 'attribute' denies Carey some possible accolades.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org