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'Still up in the air' - Alex Carey and Josh Inglis neck and neck to replace Tim Paine

Carey makes 101 off 93 for South Australia, but Australia assistant coach Andrew McDonald does not know yet who will play the first Test against England

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
As clear as the decision was on Tim Paine's successor as Australia's Test captain, the decision to find his successor behind the stumps remains up in the air according to assistant coach Andrew McDonald, as Alex Carey and Josh Inglis appear neck and neck in the race to be named for the first Test against England.
It was announced on Friday that Paine would be stepping away from cricket indefinitely for a mental health break on the same day Australia announced Pat Cummins would replace him as captain.
But in the 48 hours since the Australia selectors, George Bailey, Justin Langer and Tony Dodemaide, have been mulling over the choice of Carey and Inglis to make their debut in Brisbane with McDonald none the wiser as to which way they are leaning.
"I think it's really still up in the air," McDonald said. "I think if it was clear then there would have been an announcement, so I'm sure that the selectors will be taking all the information in the last game today, I think, domestically before we switch out our focus into the Test match.
"We've got plenty of time before the first Test match, but I'm sure once they're clear that there'll be an announcement because we've got an Australia game and obviously Australia A game as well. So the preparation will split into sort of two camps from [December 5] onwards, so that'll be something that will become clearer I would say over the next few days for us as coaches and then communicated externally."
Carey made a statement today scoring 101 off 93 balls in the Marsh Cup clash with Queensland at Adelaide Oval. It was his second limited-overs century of the season after making 128 not out against Western Australia. He also scored a match-saving 66 not out against Queensland in a Sheffield Shield clash in October batting at No. 5 but his form with the bat in red-ball cricket has been abysmal with the bat since with scores of 0, 7, 6, 2, and 3 in his last five Shield innings. However, his century today certainly came at the right time.
"It's white-ball cricket, but any form is good form as we like to say," McDonald said. "Obviously we've got Josh Inglis in camp with us at the moment, so he starved for match opportunities. Alex Carey was named in Australia A squad as a keeper as well. So we've got some options.
"And that's the beauty of it, it's always better to have options than no options. So look forward to whichever way that goes and the start of someone's career."
Carey does have a distinct advantage over Inglis having already played three years of international cricket, including in the cauldron of a World Cup in 2019. He has captained Australia in ODI cricket as recently as this year and has led Australia A twice in first-class matches. He had long been seen as the natural successor to Paine both as a wicketkeeper but also as a leader.
Inglis hasn't yet played an international for Australia but has come with a rush into national calculations over the last few months. He took Carey's spot as the second wicketkeeper in the T20I squad for the World Cup and is currently with the team in quarantine on the Gold Coast. But he has not played any official fixture since Australia's T20 World Cup warm-up game against New Zealand after one Shield match against South Australia prior to heading to the UAE.
Carey's toughness and temperament has long been his great strength and he bats No. 5 in South Australia meaning he is exposed to tougher batting conditions than Inglis is batting at No. 7 in a very strong Western Australia team.
While both men have solid first-class records with the bat, the debate among the selectors appears to be around their glovework with a clear preference to pick the best gloveman for the role, as was proven by Paine's four years in the team having been recalled from near obscurity in 2017.
Inglis is regarded among the players and coaches on the domestic circuit as a slightly superior gloveman, although Carey's work can't be undersold as he does hold the record for the most dismissals in a Shield season with 59 in 2016-17.
The pair could be set to face off on opposite sides if the three-day trial game in Brisbane starting on Wednesday goes ahead although the weather could force Australia's hierarchy to reconsider their plans. After washing out England's first practice game, heavy rain and thunderstorms are forecast in Brisbane on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Meanwhile, Jhye Richardson looks increasingly likely to play a part in the Ashes series at some stage after taking 23 wickets in his first four Shield games this season. Although he does still appear to be behind the big three of Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc in the pecking order for the first Test at least.
"Really positive return clearly on the back of some shoulder issues last year, so it's great to see him up and running," McDonald said. "George Bailey, has been casting a keen eye along with Tony Dodemaide following that form line very, very closely.
"There's no doubt that he'll be putting some pressure on across the summer, whether that's the first Test match, whether that's later on in the summer, but, you know, there's three very handy ball is in front of him at the moment."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo