A Aussie Rules-refuse-to-Cricket Player, An AFL Star, And A Story Of Camaraderie > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - An Aussie-Rules-reject-turned-cricketer, an AFL star, and a tale of camaraderie
"I lived with the guy for 12 months and he didn't once talk about how good he was as a cricketer or about himself." Dylan Shiel's exasperation over his former footy captain's humility is understandable. For when Alex Carey and he shared a house in Sydney's Breakfast Point suburb for a whole year back in 2010 as GWS Giants teammates, they were a lot more than just mere housemates. As the AFL star puts it, Carey, two years his senior, was not just his legal guardian who taught him to drive and triggered his love for coffee - with Espresso Organica - and TV shows -with Entourage. "Essentially I became an adult while living with him. He introduced me to all of life's offerings and the freedom to make my own decisions away from home," Shiel, the Essendon midfielder, tells Cricbuzz.
Yet, he knew little about the present Australian ODI wicketkeeper's interest in cricket, except the fact that the South Australian had played the sport at a junior level. It wasn't like Carey was keeping this vital information from his junior who considered him his elder brother. It's just who he is, "annoyingly and frustratingly nice, the guy that everyone loves, a special person" like Shiel puts it, and also the man who pushed him to love.
"When I was starting to date my girlfriend (Georgie), I was too scared to add her on Facebook. And I remember sitting on my laptop not sure whether I should do it or not, and he came over my shoulder and pressed the 'submit friend request' button. And it started from there. He is a big reason for where I am with my partner," Shiel recalls.
These days Shiel and his partner, who also lived with the two for a while in the Breakfast Point apartment, "ride" every ball Carey faces and follow his cricket like "super proud parents". And over the last month or so, the 27-year-old has given his adopted "parents" plenty to be proud of having played a big role in Australia's progress into the World Cup semifinals. Though it's the openers, David Warner and Aaron Finch, who've dominated headlines for the defending champions' mostly convincing displays with the bat so far, Carey has unassumingly scored 244 runs at 61 and a strike-rate of 110.40. His contributions late in the order have also been pivotal in Australia's ability to turn games around; his quickfire 45 against West Indies after the early collapse, his breezy 38 not out to help edge the score over 250 against England and the run-a-ball 71 that set up the win against New Zealand.
His understated significance to Australia's success isn't lost on Shiel. If anything, it's a reminder of the similar role Carey used to play as captain for GWS without ever attracting the limelight. Shiel recalls his closest friend as having "lacked the speed and eye-catching movements" to catch a footy recruiter or spectator's eye but as someone who possessed everything a coach and teammate wanted in a player.
"He was the type of person your teammates and coaches would pick to go to war with. He's a guy who understands how talent can be beaten by hard work and perseverance," says Shiel. They are virtues that Justin Langer thrived on during his Hall of Fame career and it's no wonder that the present Australian coach has backed Carey for a promotion in the ODI ranks along with a potential Test berth in the near future.
There's little about Carey's strokeplay that's too flash like say a Warner or debonair like say a Glenn Maxwell. It's a technique based on staying still, watching the ball closely, staying loyal to your strengths and putting the bad ball away without fail. No wonder a majority of the crucial runs that he's made have slipped under the radar. It's his other characteristics, of being undyingly resilient and courageous in addition to possessing a sagely calmness even under duress, which as a junior won him the "best and fairest" footy player award and then also helped him overcome being delisted in both his football and cricket careers, that Shiel raves about the most from the time he answers the phone and goes, "I enjoy talking about his story, it's certainly a unique one." They've certainly been the trademarks of his performances so far.
Shiel was only 17 and just out of high school when he moved out of his family home in Melbourne for the first time. Carey had already spent a year away from Adelaide by then playing for the new franchise that had propped up in the Greater Western Sydney region. He'd juggled with cricket and footy back home playing both sports for Glenelg. And the two hit it off immediately, with Carey taking Shiel under his wing and even giving him the master bedroom in their flat. Though Shiel's exasperation over his lack of knowledge about Carey's cricket is genuine, he isn't surprised that it didn't come up much during their lengthy "deep-thinking" conversations about life and every other topic that teenagers, even those as mature as they were, indulge in.
It was after all a time when 19-year-old Carey was heavily invested in Aussie rules football and was pursuing a professional career in the winter code as passionately as every other GWS player, a year out from the club's promotion to the AFL.
"The Giants had to do a couple of seasons in the lower league before they entered the AFL, he was part of those two years, which was a pretty good indication that he could have been going towards an AFL career," says Shiel. Carey, he adds, made up for his limited arsenal in terms of special skills, so essential at that level in any sport, with being prepared to put his body in situations where almost everyone else would fear to in the highly physical contact sport of Aussie rules.
"He would put himself in positions that his body would take a really hard hit. He would put his head over the football, where he would be vulnerable to getting cleaned up. A lot of us measured GPS data with speed and distance. The one thing he was really good at with his GPS in games was the number of metres he was able to accumulate consistently. Someone who would keep grinding away and keep running, and even under fatigue, he'd be able to gut run to the next contest," explains Shiel.
His footy dreams though would come to a crashing halt in 2011, a year before GWS made their AFL debut when he was informed about being let go. Shiel recalls the emotional separation and the heartbreak rather vividly.
"I'll never forget where we were in tears when he was given the news that he was delisted. It was difficult to accept. We just enjoyed each other's company that night over a few drinks. We were super confident that it wasn't going to be the end of our friendship just because he was moving on," he says. Carey moved back to Adelaide, gave playing footy for Glenelg a brief go before switching over completely to cricket.
There are various versions to what exactly happened at the Glenelg Cricket Club ground that afternoon at the start of the 2014 grade cricket season. The common thread to all of them is that Carey wasn't very pleased with where his cricket career was headed. Some even claim to have heard him express a sudden dislike for cricket, which others don't deny but refuse to come on record with. Whatever the case, he could have been pardoned for not having been overly happy with cricket at that moment. Here he was, three years out from having seen his footy dream shattered and a few months on from the Redbacks having not renewed his state contract after a few games for South Australia.
"Alex was an integral part of our 2012-13 premiership team before he hit a flat spot. He struggled initially to make the transition between codes. I think it was a case of him and all of us having high expectations for him because of the unbelievable talent he has. The results didn't flow immediately. Cricket can be a pretty lonely place when things aren't working out for you. There was a time where he contemplated and accepted an office job endeavouring to prepare for life away from elite sport," recalls Grant Francis, senior team coach at Glenelg.
It's here, with his sporting future at the crossroads once again, that Carey rather than let his innate determination slink away, found an extra gear to his tenacity. He started practicing even harder than ever before, even if it meant having to find time from his full-time day job at an accountancy firm after having done a few financial courses.
Shane McDermott has been the Emerging Redbacks coach with SACA for a few years now, and he was around when Carey had just returned to Adelaide from his stint with GWS. And he saw the immediate rise and equally immediate fall of the youngster's time with the Redbacks. But it was during the time Carey had taken up the full-time job away from cricket that McDermott recalls seeing him being more dedicated than ever before towards his cricketing ambitions.
"Sometimes in certain programmes, you spend time as a coach encouraging people and motivate them to do the work that's required to help them make the next step. Alex was always proactive in that regard. He would come in 3-4 times a week in his lunch-break, quickly get changed, hit balls, put his shirt and slacks back on and get back to work for the rest of the day. He didn't stop mate," says McDermott.
Carey's never-say-never approach to life and sport paid off once more as by next season he was back in the South Australian ranks having discovered his perfect role in the side. Two seasons on in early 2018, he was donning the wicketkeeping gloves for Australia against England at the Gabba. Those who saw his work ethic and skills with the bat soon after he'd returned from Sydney like McDermott aren't at all surprised by the sudden surge in Carey's career after the early stutters.
"He had the ability to put pressure back on the bowlers with his stroke-making ability whether off the front or back foot. He also had a genuine awareness in situations of games. I had the privilege of being an assistant to Tim Nielsen at that point in time. Tim was convinced that given the opportunity, he definitely had the attitude and skills required to play for Australia," says McDermott.
"We did tinker with him at the top of the order in red-ball cricket but then realized he could put pressure on the bowlers from the start, whether we were 4/60 or we were 4/320, and we witnessed him take attacks down in both good and bad situations and find a sense of freedom with the bat along with an understanding of what his capacity was. He just took off from there," he adds. Though he did spend some time opening the batting in ODIs, Carey seems to have settled into a similar role to the one he has with the Redbacks for Australia, and he's taking attacks down at the highest level.
Shiel hasn't always been kept abreast about Carey's rapid rise in cricket over the last two years. Most times, the information came to him via second-hand sources.
"I would call him and say, 'Mate what's going on? Give me an update'. And he'd be like 'aww yeah I got a contract with the Redbacks' and so on," he laments. Except when Carey informed him that the No 5 jersey - Shiel's number at GWS-that he dons for the Adelaide Strikers and Redbacks is a tribute to their friendship.
His former housemate's simplicity and humility has never waned off, and nobody who's known Carey at any point in his life expects it to either. He's the kind of guy who would drive all the way from his home in the suburbs to the Adelaide Oval to pose for a photo to save the SACA admin staff any trouble. He's the sort of international cricketer, Francis reveals, who will spend time after getting out in a grade match talking to the younger members of the team on where he'd gone wrong and how they should learn from it. But above all, it's the way he's been able to keep his head over the ball despite the setbacks that leaves those around him both amazed and at times even flabbergasted.
"He always found a way to look for the learning opportunities presented, regardless of whether he was contracted and at the top of his game or whether he was off contract and trying to score a run in grade cricket to get back into Futures league cricket," says McDermott.
Shiel is studying about leadership and culture in sport alongside playing in the AFL, and he believes what makes Carey tick is the resilience he's learnt from receiving setbacks at an age where he had no experience to make sound decisions but still did. It's this point of his personality, he adds, that prompted sports psychologists at GWS to mark him as a leader at a very young age. And it's no surprise that Carey has captained teams across formats at state level and was elevated to vice-captaincy of the ODI team within months of being part of the team. "He was always looking at himself before looking at others. That's what made him a great captain," says Shiel while McDermott talks about how Carey can inspire those around him to follow his lead without saying much.
Not much is said over the routine messages that Shiel and Carey exchange regardless of how busy they are. A single emoji or greeting is enough to express their incredible bond. Carey's face lights up instantly the moment you mention Shiel's name and the chat you've had with him about the wicketkeeper, further revealing just how close they are.
"You'll be surprised by the small talk between us. 'How are you mate? Love ya, hope you're well'. Sometimes I'll message him and say 'whereabouts are you?' He'll be like 'I'll be in the UK for the next six weeks'. And I'll be 'oh I'll be watching you'," he reveals. And while Shiel's been busy trying to help Essendon climb up the AFL ladder, he has been watching on proudly as Carey has lit up, quietly and modestly, the World Cup many thousand miles away.
At 27, Carey isn't just looking for a promotion in the batting order but a potential call-up to the Test squad once current captain Tim Paine moves on. Brad Haddin has already anointed him as a prime candidate. Nobody will be happier than Shiel if and when that does happen, but he does have some payback planned for his friend, with whom he's only ever conflicted over their respective choice of music -alternative over mainstream.
"I was lucky enough to be one of the groomsmen for his wedding but unfortunately he scheduled it on a very important night for me - the game before the grand final -and I had to miss it. If I ever get married, I will make sure I schedule it on the eve of the Ashes," he jokes. And it looks very likely that Shiel might not have to wait too long.
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