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Alex Carey takes occasion in his stride on Test debut

Team-mates unsurprised as Paine's replacement steps up with the gloves and bat

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Bright lights and debuts hold no fears for Alex Carey. In February 2009, he played at Adelaide Oval for the first time as a 17-year-old representing Glenelg against Kensington in the final of South Australia's 1st Grade 50-over competition.
He took to the arena like a duck to water with a Player of the Match performance. Batting under lights for the first time in his life, he made 64 not out opening the innings, calmly guiding Glenelg home in a chase of 154 after they had been 2 for 22.
The pressure of a maiden Test appearance as a 30-year-old in the opening match of an Ashes is clearly on another level. But again, Carey handled it with aplomb, keeping flawlessly to claim eight catches, the most by any wicketkeeper on Test debut.
There was a discussion at Australia's selection table in the lead-up to the Gabba Test about whether Carey or the uncapped Josh Inglis should be Tim Paine's replacement behind the stumps. Carey showed why his 83 games of international experience for Australia, three of which he has captained, was invaluable.
"I've got lots of confidence in my game," he said. "I guess playing a little bit of white-ball cricket for Australia helps that. Once the bowler is running in, I focus on the ball and that is the same with the bat. Obviously your first Test you've got a bit going through your mind.
"It didn't take me too long I guess to get into the rhythm. Probably a few overs and then we're playing cricket again. It was great fun."
Confidence and calmness are traits Carey has in abundance. He rarely gets fazed or overawed. In his first 50-over World Cup in England in 2019 he was one of Australia's most reliable performers, and nothing epitomised his ability to stay present in the moment than the semi-final against England.
He was famously clocked on the chin by a vicious Jofra Archer bouncer that dislodged his helmet. Despite the delivery splitting his chin open, his first split-second reaction was to catch his helmet before it fell on the stumps. Needing stitches, he remained on the field with his head swathed in bandages as blood seeped through and made 46 from 70 balls to help Australia avoid complete embarrassment.
There was no need for such heroics at the Gabba, but there was pressure to keep a clean sheet behind the stumps in the cauldron of an Ashes opener and he did just that.
"I guess as a wicketkeeper you're only going to get judged on catches taken or catches dropped," Carey said.
Nathan Lyon was full of praise for Carey's work, having previously been vocal about the importance of Paine behind the stumps.
"I think it's been an absolutely incredible debut," Lyon said. "I'm not surprised by it. I've watched him train in the lead-up and his preparation has been world-class. He's played obviously a lot of white-ball cricket for Australia and our relationship is only going to get bigger and better and stronger.
"He's coming down on the early bus with me to catch in the nets. To debut at the Gabba in an Ashes series, take eight catches, [we're] pretty proud of him."
Carey's captain, Pat Cummins, wasn't surprised at his performance behind the stumps either.
"Thought he was tremendous," Cummins said. "Really clean against Lyno as well. Not surprised, he's played a lot of international cricket and we knew he'd slot straight in and be high quality. Really happy for him. Also, putting his hand up when David Warner wasn't going to open and saying, 'I'll open' shows a lot of confidence to do whatever he can for the team."
Carey had opened just twice in first-class cricket previously but had no hesitation in taking on the job to protect Warner and the middle order.
"Why disrupt number three, four and five?" Carey said. "I felt confident to go out there and do the job. Unfortunately, I nicked one but we won the Test match. I'm pretty happy. I'll play any role for this team."
On Thursday, nearly 13 years after his first appearance at Adelaide Oval, Carey will get to live out a dream of playing a day-night Test match at home in front of family and friends.
"I'm really excited to now head to Adelaide," Carey said. "We all know what the pink-ball Test means. It's a really good atmosphere in Adelaide. But growing up watching games there and to have my family there is going to be very exciting. And obviously, winning this Test puts us in a good place to hopefully start really well on Thursday."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo