Carberry eyes England opening
Once upon a time - and not so long ago, either - Michael Carberry would have had one last chance to do some serious selector-nudging. But the days of players winning a tour place on the strength of an eye-catching performance in a Lord's final are now part of England's history. And no bad thing, most would say.
So, barring a late decision to postpone the naming of the Test squad to travel to India next month, Hampshire opener Carberry will walk into Saturday's CB40 final against Warwickshire knowing precisely what the future holds for him in international cricket. And, either way, he will be desperate to help his county land a second trophy in a fortnight after their T20 triumph.
Carberry's name has been regularly mentioned, in the same sentence as several other batsmen, ever since Andrew Strauss announced his retirement at the end of last month and thereby created a vacancy at the top of England's Test order. But, unlike many hopefuls, he already has a cap to his name and his dream is to add some more.
Two and a half years have not dimmed the memory of playing against Bangladesh at Chittagong, where he contributed 30 and 34 to a 181-run win. Carberry, it seems, can recall every little detail. But when he spoke this week at West End, his focus was very much on a huge game ahead and the task facing Hampshire.
"Finals at Lord's are arguably the most enjoyable days of your career," he said. "The home of cricket has a special place in every player's heart and finals there are a massive occasion."
Carberry, 32 at the end of September, has experienced both the misery of defeat (to Durham, in 2007) and the joy of victory (against Sussex, in 2009) as Hampshire reached two 50-over finals in the space of three seasons. But for many of his team-mates, a September showdown at Lord's will be a new experience.
"I have full confidence the young guys will step up to the plate," said Carberry, whose form in this summer's CB40 competition has been stunning - with 563 runs, and two hundreds, in eight innings at an average of 93.83. "I've told them to soak up the occasion but a lot of them seem to thrive under pressure, anyway.
"Our opponents, Warwickshire, have had an outstanding year and they will be very high on confidence after winning the county championship. But whatever you've done, it's all on the day when it comes to a Lord's final - names and past achievements go out of the window."
Carberry's name has not disappeared from the England frame since he played in that 2010 Test against Bangladesh. But, as a result of circumstances beyond his control, he is but one of several vehicles waiting hopefully in line rather than first cab off the rank.
Having deputised for the resting Strauss and opened with Alastair Cook, Carberry was left out of the second and final Test of that short tour because England felt the need to accommodate a fifth bowler in Dhaka. But it was later that same year when his world turned upside down: he suffered a blood clot in his lung, ruling him out of England's performance squad trip to Australia and putting his whole career in jeopardy.
It must have been a desperately worrying time for Carberry and it is hardly surprising that, having now fully recovered, he no longer wishes to talk about that illness at any length. It meant, though, that he missed the first three months of the 2011 season - and there was much happiness, in Hampshire and beyond, when he returned to Championship side in sensational fashion by scoring a triple century against Yorkshire.
Out of sight, though, can mean out of mind. And while England reassured Carberry that he was still on their radar by picking him for the Lions team to play West Indies earlier this season, a knee injury - requiring surgery - forced him to miss the middle chunk of this summer while other international candidates, like Somerset's Nick Compton and Yorkshire's Joe Root, were scoring heavily.
Thankfully, though, the left-hander is now fully fit and firing again. "I've been a little bit in and out this summer, but conditions have been pretty bowler-friendly," he said (Carberry has scored heavily in limited-overs contests but is without a century in the Championship going into the last game of the season, having missed five matches because of his knee problem). "I was very disappointed to get injured when I did, on the back of spending time out of the game last year as well. But these things happen, the rehab went well and now my knee is as strong as it's ever been."
And so is Carberry's health. The only hint of a cloud, during an otherwise sunny discussion, appeared when he was asked whether long-haul flights might be a problem after that serious lung condition.
"I've said for the last two years, and it has become a bit of a broken record, that I've been to pre-season with Hampshire [overseas] and I don't remember catching a bus," Carberry said. "I'm more than able to fly."
Asking Carberry to think back to 2010, and his England debut, is to tread on safer ground: "I don't think you ever forget your Test call up. It was something I had worked 13 or 14 years towards. I remember it like it was yesterday - getting my cap from Mike Atherton, then walking out to bat with Alastair Cook, getting my first run down to fine leg, itching to get one out of the middle of the bat and then getting a square cut away... I probably had a bit of a rush of blood on 30 but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it's something I would like to do again."
And what of his chances of an India tour spot? "There has been a lot of speculation over the last couple of weeks, ever since a certain Mr Strauss decided to retire," Carberry said, with a smile. "I'm flattered that my name has come back around for that opening spot. I've played pretty well in the last few years and I've kept my performances to a high standard so I'm glad I'm back in the melting pot.
"England will probably be looking at all options. I'm two years older and probably at that stage where people will ask: do you take a 32-year-old? Hopefully they will, based on experience. But whoever gets the nod then the best of luck to them. And if it is me who misses out then at least I can look back and say I've achieved something I set out to do as a kid - and I've still got a lot to achieve in my career with Hampshire.
"I'll be brutally honest and say there will always be a little element of frustration because I feel over the last two years I've played some fantastic cricket for Hampshire, and scored a lot of runs, in and around some difficult personal times as well. But it's how the selectors view things - they're the ones who make the decisions. I've had to make peace with a lot of things - and one of those things is that I might finish with one Test cap. I would be a bit of a difficult pill to swallow but you learn to deal with these things."