Michael Carberry: The light at the tunnel’s end

Sometimes cricketing stories are about a little more than just runs and wickets. Sometimes they can be about serious issues such as life and death. For Michael Carberry, his story was a matter of life and death.

Last November, after another prolific summer with Hampshire which helped cement the progress he made over the winter when he was capped by England, Carberry was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs as he prepared to fly to Australia as part of an England Performance Squad.

The condition was serious enough to prompt fears for the 30-year old’s life let alone his future as a cricketer, but thankfully following  close medical attention and rehabilitation he managed to recover bit-by-bit.

As he said in an interview with BBC Radio Solent in April:

“It’s been a rollercoaster winter, and I’m gutted not to be starting the season. More importantly, I’m just pleased to be alive.”

So as he raised his bat today when he reached his century en route to a battling 140 not out it was understandably an emotional moment for him, and for those who have worked with him during his recovery.

It was a key sign that he was on his way back, that his game was back in decent shape, that his mindset had not been affected by his traumas but also a sign that he could return to the heights which he had touched before his enforced layoff.

Lest we forget that this was a cricketer who little more than 18 months ago was capped by England in a Test Match in Bangladesh and was considered to be the Test openers understudy prior to the Winter tour Down Under.

Here’s hoping that today is the first of many good moments he enjoys as he seeks to make up for lost time and put himself back into a similar position to challenge for international honours once again.

Though the number of contenders for an opening berth have swelled in the past six months, the claims of a fit again Michael Carberry should not be underestimated, especially after the challenges he has faced and overcome to get back to where he is today.

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Alastair Cook’s loss of form opens the England door to County contenders

As the England test team begins to enter the final straight in their quest to retain the Ashes they appear for the first time in years to be entering an away series in Australia in better shape than their bitter rivals.

While Australia continue be concerned by the fluctuating form of both bowlers and batsman, for Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower this has been a remarkably tranquil period where stability and success have gone hand in hand over the past year.

However the one cloud on England’s horizon is the form of vice captain Alastair Cook.

Cook's loss of form is a real worry for England

After a dramatically poor English summer, it is easy to forget what a productive winter Cook had with a century against South Africa and two against Bangladesh in his first tour as captain.

But now just a matter of months later, Cook looks all at sea. After spending the latter part of last summer working on technical issues which had plagued him during the Ashes he appeared to have hit upon a method which was working.

Yet now the technical issues have re-emerged, with a continued flaw outside off stump making him a target for a fuller ball. As his former Essex team-mate Nasser Hussain commented during Friday’s painstaking innings of 17, “his technique is shot”.

The question now is what do England do with their vice captain. Continuity has been a staple part of their success, and Cook is a vital part of that. Yet with an Ashes Winter looming, can England afford to persevere with their vice captain and back him to come good?

Given Cook’s record you wouldn’t bet against him making a battling hundred in his next innings, but should his woes continue then perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to take him out to allow a refresh and a rethink.

Such a tactic worked for Andrew Strauss when he struggled with his form in 2008 before returning with a battling 177 against New Zealand, it could well work with Cook.

Jonathan Trott: Ready to open?

England are not short of credible candidates who could step up in Cook’s place. The one name among the current team is to suggest pushing Jonathan Trott up to open with Ian Bell coming in at number 3.

Though quite whether England would be willing to jeopardise the success Trott has had as a number 3 in favour of trying him in an opening position he is unaccustomed to, is another matter.

Another option could be to dip into the county cricket pool, which has proved particularly productive for them in recent years given the success of Trott and Morgan over the past 12 months.

Two names standout in the county championship so far this season, Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth and Hampshire’s Michael Carberry.

Adam Lyth: Breakthrough season

Lyth, who sits atop of the run scorers list, is a left handed opener who has enjoyed something of a breakthrough season this year after struggling to break into the Yorkshire team last season.

At 22 he still has plenty of improving to do, but he is well organised and keen to attack at every opportunity-very much a Flower/Strauss sort of batsman.

Carberry on the other hand was capped by England during the Bangladesh tour, where he admittedly struggled-top scoring with 34.

Carberry: Scoring runs for fun

Despite failing to shine, he has enjoyed a fruitful county season-recently scoring two centuries against Durham in Hampshire’s last County game.

A powerful hitter, an excellent fielder and a thoroughly capable batsman, he has plenty of fans including Shane Warne, and remains very much in England’s thoughts as James Whittaker has been a regular at the Rose Bowl this year.

There are certainly options if Cook’s fortunes continue to fade. While his record automatically ensures he will be in the squad for the Ashes trip, only time will tell if he remains in the starting XI.

Competition in a squad is something Andy Flower has wanted for a long time, and Alastair Cook certainly has competition for his place, from both in and outside this England squad.