A Test cap is so close for Michael Carberry now that he can probably feel it touching his head. If he does not get to wear it this Friday in the port city of Chittagong, he may never require a fitting again.
"I've waited 10 years for this and I've lost my hair," he said yesterday, careful about overplaying his chances of being in England's side for the First Test against Bangladesh but recognising the real prospect. In that time he has played for three counties and come close to leaving the professional game because the second of them, Kent, recruited a phalanx of overseas players which brought his career to a shuddering halt.
He had discussions with the careers adviser at the Professional Cricketers' Association about a new direction. His mum, Maria, was his staunchest advocate in persuading him to persevere as a batsman. But it was another foreigner, perhaps the most charismatic of them all, who revived Carberry's fortunes.
He signed for Hampshire, where their captain, Shane Warne, allowed him to flourish. It is not that Carberry has been a revelation – talent and flair have always been abundant – but on the good days he is one of those who can make the heart beat a little faster.
"You need someone, whether it's a Shane Warne or whoever, to back you, because there are going to be days where things don't go your way," Carberry said. "He got me to look at my cricket from a different angle. He is one of the most attacking-minded cricketers we have seen and that spilled on to me. He gave me that licence to go out and show my flair and do what I do."
Carberry has been around for much longer than 10 years. It was in July 1996 that he appeared for England Under-15s. James Adams, who is now his opening partner at Hampshire, was in the same team. But it never quite went according to plan when he joined the professional ranks.
"I spent my early career at Surrey as a young guy trying to break into a star-studded team with maybe seven or eight England batsmen," he said. "You do the maths. I moved to Kent, which I felt I had to do to spread my wings as a professional cricketer. I felt I performed pretty well but for various reasons couldn't get a regular spot. Kent made four new signings, who were all batsmen."
Three of the quartet were South Africans – Martin van Jaarsveld, Justin Kemp and Andrew Hall. In 2005 Carberry did not play a single Champion- ship game. He had reached a crossroads. "It was 50-50 whether I gave up," he said. "I was pretty close, I reached pre-season and I had been batting as well as I ever had been and I couldn't get in the team. I remember going home and saying to my mum I thought it would be my last season.
"I'm a fairly straight-talking person and all I wanted was a straight answer as to why I wasn't in the team, and I did not get one. Obviously they had four new guys, someone had to be the fall guy and I guess it was me."
This is a salutary story for English cricket, and any county chief executive or coach would do well always to bear it in mind. Warne, an overseas player of an altogether different hue, changed all that. "Playing under him was a massive spur in getting me here."
At the same time as giving Carberry freedom, Warne also urged him to tighten up his game. He scored 935 runs in 2006 and went to Bangladesh with England Lions, scored more than 1,000 the following summer and was successful on the Lions tour of India.
A century against New Zealand for the Lions in 2008 plainly demon-strated the new Carberry. The first fifty took 131 balls, the second 57. He then had to be carried off on a stretcher having damaged a hamstring while leaping up in the air to celebrate.
Carberry almost played a Test match against South Africa in January when he was summoned as cover after Paul Collingwood broke a finger. This time he is closer still, as Andrew Strauss's replacement as opening batsman. There are other options, and the feeling is that it may be now or never. Now would be the correct decision.Reuse content