Steve Smith is walking over to the TV in change rooms at The Oval. He talks to his team-mates, but his eyes never leave the screen. What he has seen, he needs to watch again.

Jasprit Bumrah is coming around the wicket. It is the death. That awkward-to-deliver-and-face action puts the ball short of a length, fast. Bumrah sees a tell, maybe the toe twitch, and he can see the batsman will move back and give himself room. So he follows him, right at the body. There's no room; you're in Bumrah's world, you get what he gives, not what you want.

Alex Carey is facing one of the world's best bowlers. It should be a single, or maybe even a dot ball. Carey moves his front foot out of the way, but it's still over middle and leg. His balance is wrong, with one foot moving and the other hovering, and the ball is moving at pace, so while his body is still trying to contort, he lifts it off a horizontal blade over the head of MS Dhoni. Once bounce, four.

Before turning 26, Carey was a failed footballer, had lost a South Australia contract once, and was a fringe domestic player. Less than three years later he was scoring boundaries off one of the best bowlers on earth and making batting gods stand up and take notice at a World Cup.

Things have not gone to plan, but Carey always finds a way.

***

Jason McCartney was a professional Australian Rules footballer, who after he retired became the AFL's youth and high-performance co-ordinator, and in that role he would often make comments about young players. In 2009, there were two interesting guys, Alex Keath, who ultimately choose cricket over football, and Carey, who chose football over cricket.

Carey plays like a bloke just taking it one ball at a time - if it's there, he'll whack it; if it's good, he'll wait

In McCartney's notes Carey is described as a "midfielder who makes good decisions and demonstrates very neat foot skills". A midfielder in Australian Rules is much like one in football; they are the engine room, they move the ball up the field and defend when not in possession. They cover the entire field and can run upwards of 15km a match. Carey was often in packs, being tackled or bumped, while trying to feed the ball out to other players.

At 15, Carey was playing professional football against men in the reserves of the South Australian National Football League. He represented South Australia in under-18 football and was taken by Greater Western Sydney Giants the year before they entered the Australian Football League.

Current Essendon star and Carey's former team- and housemate Dylan Shiel, wrote for PlayersVoice: "Alex Carey wasn't blessed with blinding speed or dazzling skills. He wasn't the best kicker of the footy you've ever seen, either. But he had courage to burn. He was a leader, the kind of player who could lift everyone around him with one inspirational act. And he was tough. Bloody tough."

Carey won the Greater Western Sydney Giants' inaugural best-and-fairest award and was captain of the team in 2010. The person who picked him as captain was Kevin Sheedy, one of the biggest legends in the game, a former player turned coach who had been involved in 929 football matches and won seven premierships in total. And it was ultimately Sheedy who let him go before Giants took the step up into the AFL.

Despite Shiel, McCartney and Sheedy all rating him, Carey was just not good enough. He went back to amateur cricket and took up a job in financial management as a back-up.

The Giants delisted Carey in 2011; for the next six years he was on the margins of South Australia cricket. Then in the 2017-18 Big Bash season, he opened the batting for Adelaide Strikers. He smashed the ball everywhere, averaging 49 while hitting at 141.

***

Peter Nevill, Matthew Wade, Peter Handscomb and Tim Paine have kept wicket for Australia in all formats over the last three years. Nevill and Wade didn't make any runs, Paine was brought back from virtual retirement, and Handscomb's gloves get an occasional flirtatious side glance. But it is Carey who has kept in over a third of the games in that period.

Carey has not been amazing when keeping. He generally looks tidy, but he fumbles. His biggest problem at this point in his keeping career isn't standing back. He has taken 90.6% of his chances standing back; the global average during his career is only slightly higher, at 91.1%. It's standing up at the stumps that he has had problems with. He has had 17 chances up at the stumps, and from them has dropped six catches and missed two stumpings. That means he is successful 53% of the time, where the average is 67%.

There seems to be little wrong with his technique, but he comes across as someone who could have benefited from a long apprenticeship. This is not just a keeping problem; it's because he has played little professional cricket. Picking football stunted his cricket growth, and when he came back to cricket, he lost his South Australia contract.

Carey is near 28, and yet has played under 130 professional games. To put that into perspective, Jason Roy is a year older and has played over 450, and KL Rahul is about a year younger and has near 250.

There are parts of Carey's game that even his incredible natural talent overcome. You watch him pick Adil Rashid's wrong'un or handle an Andre Russell hell spell, and you think: is there anything he can't do? But then you see his first-class average of 29, and you wonder how he is even here.

It's not like he has been knocking on the door for the last couple of years, demanding selection. Before being picked for Australia, he had played ten T20s, 23 first-class and 15 one-day domestic matches. Most of his cricket has been in the last 18 months, when he was already an Australia player.

That makes Carey a late-blooming, late-starting international cricketer still finding his way. It shows what natural talent he has just to stick around, let alone star.

***

Carey debuted at No. 8. Over the next few games he batted at Nos. 6 and 5, and then opened. So in seven ODIs, he batted in four slots.

It was only this year that he ever batted at No. 7, and while the Australian batting order seems to be fluid, Carey stayed at No. 7 no matter what, during the World Cup group games. Australia got him so good at 7; it needed a complete top-order collapse in a knockout game to risk the move.

Before turning 26, Carey was a failed footballer, had lost a South Australia contract once and was a fringe domestic player. Three years later he was scoring boundaries off one of the best bowlers on earth

For South Australia, Carey was tried as an opener and was underwhelming, and he never took off as a middle-order player either. In 21 one-dayers for South Australia, he has averaged 29 while striking at 76. He was outstanding in the 2017-18 BBL. But D'Arcy Short was the better opener, and Australia already had Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch and David Warner. This season in the BBL he averaged 27 while hitting at 120.

When he has been at his best in the BBL, it's noticeable that Carey preserves his wicket in the Powerplay, gets set, and then explodes. So you have an opener who starts slowly and did so well in only one season, coming in at No. 7, where he has to start fast. None of it makes much sense, and yet Carey has not only made it work, he has been phenomenal. No keeper had a better World Cup with the bat; no Australian player in the tournament exceeded their previous performance as much as he did.

Steve Waugh has compared Carey to Michael Bevan and Michael Hussey, but those two were controlled hitters. Bevan was a human set-square operated by advanced algorithms. He worked out limited-overs cricket a decade before anyone else and made himself the ideal player to win it. Hussey used some of those same lessons and enhanced them with even more batting talent, if not entirely the complete disregard for normal human emotions that Bevan had.

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Both spent years honing their skills. Hussey was a later bloomer who came into international cricket with a finely tuned method of scoring runs. Bevan was picked at 24 but had almost 5000 professional runs by the time he played for Australia. Carey is 27 and has only 3800 professional runs now.

Carey is a little more "by any means necessary": he does not play like Bevan or Hussey, he has not come fully formed as a batsman, he doesn't take calculated risks, and unlike many of the world's best finishers, he doesn't bat below the rate to go deep. Carey plays like a bloke just taking it one ball at a time - if it's there, he'll whack it; if it's good, he'll wait. And the rest of the time he's getting by.

What Hussey and Bevan did was create a repeatable template. Carey hasn't done that yet. What he brings is boundless energy, incredible shots, and a let's-get-shit-done mindset.

Upon hearing that aliens are invading earth, you could see Australia sending him to intercept them near the moon with a half-built space shuttle, 12 juice boxes and a letter of recommendation from his high-school drama teacher. Carey would still find a way to give the invaders hell.

***

Australia's batting this World Cup was two gun openers and a No. 7; in between there were other performances, but even those were usually been assisted by either Warner and Finch or the No. 7. In the group games, the openers averaged 67 combined while scoring at a touch over a run a ball. Carey averaged 66 while smashing it at 6.9 runs an over. Numbers 3 to 6 were 27 at under a run a ball.

Almost every second game he was asked to do something amazing. Against West Indies, he entered the crease at 79 for 5. For the India match, he scored Australia's fastest ever World Cup fifty, but it still wasn't enough as Australia lost wickets around him. In the New Zealand match Australia's batsmen were struggling to knock the ball off the square when he turned up at 92 for 5. Against South Africa, he arrived after Usman Khawaja retired hurt, with 207 needed from 155 balls. Carey shouldn't be averaging over 60, and he shouldn't be doing it at well above a run a ball. He should be on a farm, taking in some mountain air to recuperate.

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And these exciting positions that Australia put him in show how versatile he can be. Carey was 3 off 26 against West Indies; he took their fastest short stuff, and then when he got set, there were five boundaries in nine balls. He cut, drove and slashed once he felt right. The bulk of the runs came when he was gone, but there would be no Nathan Coulter-Nile innings had Carey not blocked and then bashed the West Indies attack.

Against India, Australia needed 115 from 60 when he walked in, so pretty much two a ball. Carey used his feet to the spin, upper-cut Bumrah, slogged Hardik Pandya, and drove Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His fifty came up from 25 balls; it would have been the innings that would have been remembered forever had Australia won. But no one stayed with him, and by the end, Carey was left to handle Bumrah on his own.

The New Zealand match was a tough pitch, and no Australia batsman had looked comfortable. Second ball, Carey cover drove Jimmy Neesham - who had 2 for 4 at the time - through covers like he had brought his own pitch; a few balls later he was reverse- sweeping Mitchell Santner. When he came to the the crease, Khawaja was 32, by the time Khawaja had made 59, Carey had caught up. It was a brilliant innings where he scored at a run a ball, and few other batsmen scored at all.

In the South Africa game he played another long innings after going in early, giving Australia their only chance of winning. In the England match there was a late fast-scoring cameo that pushed them beyond England. It was just Carey, in different ways, hitting the ball hard, taking all the pressure, finding a way.

Australia earned 14 points and finished second on the World Cup table, and they did it with opening batsmen, fast bowlers and Carey.

***

There is blood on the pitch, and a concussion protocol will be held once Carey's chin is patched up. The reason is a short ball from Jofra Archer that exploded vertically

You could see Australia sending Carey to intercept aliens near the moon with a half-built space shuttle, 12 juice boxes and a letter from his drama teacher, and he would still find a way to give the invaders hell

Australia are 18 for 3 when the short ball flies under the armpit and hits the bottom of Carey's helmet grill. He has to be bandaged twice; the second one involves tape all over his head, and reminds the world of Rick McCosker's broken jaw. A few minutes after he is hit, he is back on the front foot, middling the ball.

If you go back to Dylan Shiel's article, you see this is just Carey. "He would cop a huge hit and get up without a grimace or the slightest sign of pain. Honestly, you wouldn't know he was hurt unless the doctor told you. It never came from him."

At one stage the blood shows through the bandage. The medical staff want to come back out, but Carey waves them off. He's busy, going about what he has done all series long, saving Australia. He scored 375 runs, took down spin and pace, batted in the Powerplay and the death, chased hard, set up totals, survived bouncers, and everything else.

When he is at the crease in the semi-final, it's the only time Australia look like putting on a total. Here he is, out of position again, injured and shook, with England all over him, and again he is doing it.

As Shiels put it, "But, Alex being Alex, he was always going to find a way to make it work."

When Archer hit him in the head, Carey launched himself into the air, turned his back, and his hand came off the bat. The explosion of the hit blew his helmet off. Everything was happening, but as Carey came back to earth, he still had the presence of mind to grab his helmet to ensure it didn't fall on his stumps.

In his worst moment, when he was actually beaten up, he still did what he had to do. Carey just always finds a way.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber