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Setbacks and fatherhood mould Alex Carey the leader

Australia A captain balances life as a new dad with his rise as a cricketer and a potential future leader of the national teams

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Alex Carey walks out with a smile

Alex Carey walks out with a smile  •  Getty Images

Run your eye down the list of Australian cricketers going out to play in the tour game against the Pakistanis at Perth Stadium from Monday, and Alex Carey's name stands out for a couple of reasons: one, most obviously, is that he is the only wicketkeeper, and two, more intriguingly, he is the only father among the group.
Referring to Carey's parental responsibilities, along with his partner Eloise, towards 14-month-old Louis as part of his CV for captaincy may be something of a stretch. But there is little doubt that the maturity he has developed over a life that has featured an attempted AFL career, a spell working in a "real job" in the financial services industry and, latterly, the joys and trials of fatherhood have all contributed to Carey's rise as a leader in Australian cricket.
Cricket Australia, its board, management and selectors, have been on the lookout for moral and ethical as well as tactical and strategic leadership since the Newlands scandal, and the rise of Carey as a potential successor to Tim Paine and Aaron Finch cannot simply be attributed to cricketing factors. Paine, of course, brought plenty of his own perspective to the role of Test captain, after having also become a father while coming within a phone call or two of retiring from the game in 2017.
But for Carey, a sporting life in which he has already seen and done so much by the age of 28 puts him not only in rare company in Australian cricket but in society in general. Parenting is increasingly becoming a part of life for those in their 30s rather than 20s, and so Carey's range of experience is not something to be commonly seen. The Australia A team to play in Perth can and will benefit from a captain who has seen much more of life than the inside of a dressing room.
I love going to games and playing, but I think it's also great to come home to a smiling little one-year-old. It takes your mind off - if it was a good day or a bad day, it keeps you pretty level
"I've got a family now, a little 14-month-old, and having to be away from them, Eloise and Louie quite a bit, is something I'm still managing to get right," Carey told ESPNcricinfo. "Eloise has been fantastic with the past 14 months of Louie's life to carry the absolute load. I was lucky enough to have them come over for part of the World Cup. So keeping it as natural as possible, to have them come on tour when possible and making sure that I'm still trying to be a good dad when I'm away, getting on Facetime and doing that.
"But I also think it's great for my cricket to have a family. I love going to training and trying to improve, I love going to games and playing, but I think it's also great to come home to a smiling little one-year-old. It takes your mind off - if it was a good day or a bad day, it keeps you pretty level. So it's something away from cricket rather than cricket 24/7. When things are going well you naturally feel pretty good about yourself, and when you have a few tough days, that's when it can get quite tough to manage.
"But I think through my learnings over professional sport, having some setbacks early on in my career with some football and also with cricket, it's made me realise that this game's pretty tough - when you have good days, make them really good days. When you have bad days, don't dwell on them too long and learn pretty quickly from those mistakes."
In a season where the matter of mental health of Australian cricketers has become an even greater issue than before by the high-profile withdrawals of Glenn Maxwell and then Nic Maddinson from the international set-up, Carey has a decent wellspring of memories and life chapters that keep him remembering that this is all just a game in the end. At the nascent Greater Western Sydney Giants, Carey was deemed the best man to be the club's inaugural captain, but then not good enough to make the senior list when the club graduated to the AFL proper.
And, in addition to the advice of Adam Gilchrist, who has grown very much into a mentor for Carey, he also carries with him the words of Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara about exactly how often even the best of cricketers are going to fail. "Kumar Sangakkara said it to Jake Weatherald, and he shared this with me - he was one of the best batters in the world and 66% of his innings he failed," Carey said. "So naturally you're going to have some pretty bad days, but it's about staying up, learning and keep rocking up with a big smile on your face.
"Working in finance for two or three years before I got my opportunity with the SACAs has made me realise it's a pretty privileged job to be a part of if you can call it a job. It's more a dream come true, really. You want to play well every game, you want to win every game of cricket, and it doesn't always happen that way. But for me it's having a really good balance between on-field and off-field, staying level as much as possible, and I think that comes with maturity too.
"Starting to play some more games of cricket, I still think I've got a lot of learning ahead in my career, but just through the World Cup, through the last 24 months of playing in the green and gold, it makes me realise what's important. Training the right way, rocking up game day, making sure I've got the team's interest in mind every time I go out to play, how can I help the team win. I'm starting to develop that really healthy balance."
Balance arrives, too, in how Carey weighs up his best fit as a cricketer in any team he is a part of. With Paine ensconced as Test captain, he ponders the possibility of squeezing into the national team as a batsman alone but remains strong in his belief that it is in the all-round skill of wicketkeeping and batting in the middle order that his chance will finally arrive. "For me it is wicketkeeping, it's my No. 1 craft," he said. "But there's such a big role now to play with the batting, I've moved up to No. 6 for South Australia with the red ball, which is great.
"I'm loving my batting at the moment and I feel really confident every time I go out to bat. I think there's a lot of great batters around this country that are suited specifically for that role, and for me, it's to keep improving with the gloves and keep improving with the bat. Hopefully one day the dream of playing Test cricket comes true, but at the moment I think through that World Cup [in England this year] I've learned a lot about my batting and my keeping.
"Leadership as well, I'm really enjoying that role through the middle order. Big role to play with the bat definitely, but first and foremost, it's catch 'em."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig