The Ashes 2013-14: Michael Carberry’s feelgood story could resolve No 6 problem
Revitalised opener praises Warne for his support and may have booked his berth to take on Australia in first Test
One day last summer, Michael Carberry expressed his surprise at being selected again for the England Lions side. This, in effect, is the second team and at 32 he had assumed that his time had briefly come and gone.
However, if the selectors wanted him to play, then so be it. He duly went out and made a workmanlike 77 at Leicester and probably thought that was that. But these selectors do not forget, it seems, and Carberry, now 33, stands on the very verge of opening the batting in an Ashes Test. His restrained but discernible smile after he made an unbeaten 153 against Australia A on the first day of England's second tour match told its own story.
Carberry, chosen to open ahead of Joe Root, shared an unbroken first-wicket partnership with his captain, Alastair Cook, who finished the day on 154. The bowling was tame bordering on neutered at times but when the pair had to negotiate a tricky opening hour with the ball nipping about, they were models of probity. Thereafter they did not put a foot wrong, two old pros recognising that this was their day and that days like these do not come along too often.
It is difficult to see how England can omit Carberry from their plans for the first Test in Brisbane when a fortnight ago it would have been difficult to see how they could have included him. He has done everything asked of him and more, considering that he played in the opening match only because Cook's back went. Sometimes all the strategic planning you like cannot legislate for happenstance.
Carberry evidently was delighted and was able to thank Shane Warne for his presence in the England squad. Warne may be persona non grata at present after his harsh comments about Cook's captaincy and some other members of the party. Alongside those, however, he opined that Carberry, whom he knew well from his days as Hampshire captain, should open.
"I think Shane Warne is basically the reason why I actually got a chance to play Test cricket," said Carberry. "I was a young guy, a little bit lost in county cricket. I came to Hampshire and from day one he made me feel very much at home and gave me the backing every young player needs.
"He allowed me to play a brand of cricket I wanted to play. I think he was very influential in terms of me doing what I've done, then getting the chance to play for England a few years on. Whenever I've caught up with Shane, he's always had very kind things to say about my game. He's someone I still keep in contact with, even though he might be overseas. He's always been a great friend to me."
It was the kind of testimonial that it was difficult to think Cook could enunciate about Warne at present. But it was a reminder, too, that Warne was indeed playing his part of a foot soldier in the phoney war and that cricket's family remains large.
England have probably decided that Carberry as opener could help to solve their conundrum at No 6. It is now entirely possible that Root could drop down to the position in which he began his Test career.
The potential introduction of Gary Ballance should not be overlooked, however. Ballance was probably the name in the frame when the squad left England two weeks ago and as a left-hander coming in after three right-handers it may be thought that the variety would be worthwhile.
Carberry's story would be uplifting, not only because his real chance – he played one Test in Bangladesh three years ago as stand-in opener – has come so late. He missed almost a full season because of a blood clot on his lung and so he recognises that all this is a considerable bonus.
"It's obviously been well-documented that I have had some tough times personally off the field," he said. "By the grace of God, I'm here to enjoy what I'm doing now. I think when things like that happen, it gives you perspective on your cricket.
"It made me probably relax more, and try to enjoy the game for what it is – rather than, as young players do, put pressure on yourself to get where you want to get to. I'm trying not to look too far ahead. I'll worry about The Gabba when I get there. I look to try to be flexible, and do whatever job is required of me and I feel I can do for the team."
Carberry was so concerned that his cricketing career might be prematurely ended that he completed a two-year course to become an electrician in just six months, qualifying in early 2012. Having set up his own business while England were losing successive series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, his trusted foreman is in charge as the boss hopes to add to his first century in England colours.
"Thankfully, I've done it a few times in first-class cricket but obviously to do it for England is a very special moment," Carberry said.
"I thought the Australia A guys bowled very well up front," he added. "The new-ball pair were as good as anyone I've faced and you can only make runs against the people you're playing against."
Carberry and Cook became the first England pair to stay unbeaten in a full day since Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash batted throughout the fourth day in putting on 377 against South Australia in 1998-99. Only two previous England opening pairs have put on a triple-hundred stand, both in Test matches. They were Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes (323 in Melbourne in 1911-12) and Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook (349 in Johannesburg in 1948-49).
The Australia A wicketkeeper Tim Paine praised Carberry's contribution but hinted – somewhat hopefully after a long day in the field – that he could be susceptible in certain situations.
"He's obviously a class player. I'm sure if he does play in the Ashes, he'll be hard to get out," said Paine. "But I think there is an area there, if you stack up your gully region, at some point you'll get a chance."
Shami off to a flyer as Tendulkar lies in wait
Debutant Mohammed Shami took 4 for 71 as India moved into a commanding position after the first day of Sachin Tendulkar's penultimate Test match against the West Indies in Kolkata.
The 23-year-old bowled Marlon Samuels and Denesh Ramdin in successive overs as the tourists stumbled to 234 all out, Samuels top-scoring with 65. Tendulkar also claimed his 45th Test wicket when he trapped Shane Shillingford lbw, before Ravichandran Ashwin and Shami wrapped up the tail.
In response, India ended the day on 37 without loss thanks to openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay.
Tendulkar's moment in his 199th Test match should come at some point, but India could be out of sight by then.
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