Michael Carberry: The art of life after cricket

Facing Mitchell Johnson in the 2013/14 Ashes series was an art form that not too many England batsmen managed to master.

Michael Carberry came as close as anyone. And was rewarded for doing so by never playing for his country again.

Now, though, he’s forging a new career – and he hasn’t got a bat in his hand. He’s got a pencil instead.

Always a keen artist, Carberry took up drawing more seriously while recovering from cancer four years ago. And as he tells The CC, instead of filling his hours wondering what might have been with England, Carberry took to his local coffee shop and began a crash course in the art of sketching.

“I did art at GCSE. I was decent but nowhere the level I am now,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money as a family when I was growing up but there was always a pen and pencil around. When you didn’t have a Sega Megadrive or a Nintendo in your house, you had to find something else to occupy your time.

“When I was battling cancer in 2016, I would have done my rehab for the day by 10am.

“Once you’ve done that, what do you do to make sure you’re getting out of bed? I suppose it was more of a mindfulness thing, really. Something drew me back to sketching. I didn’t realise that if you go onto social media or onto YouTube then you can find artists showing you different techniques – I would sit and watch them, build up my pencil collection and then go down to my local Starbucks.

“When you didn’t have a SEga Megadrive or a Nintendo in your house, you had to find something else to occupy your time.”

“Customers would come past and then complement me and gradually some of them started asking me to do some work for them. Now here I am. It’s all a bit of a change from the life I was used to. But as you know, I have many careers – sometimes I feel a bit like Del Boy.”

Carberry has never been your average cricketer. In the off-season – and sometimes during it – the 39-year-old would be an occasional DJ or an electrician. Vocational callings that have provided him with a sense of perspective that is arguably missing in some modern sportsmen.

In between he played six Tests, scoring 345 runs at an average of almost 29. Given that five of those Tests were in Australia, it’s a record that could have been dramatically improved had he been given further opportunities. As it was, his final Test innings came at Sydney in January 2014, top scoring and batting for almost an hour longer than any other England batsman as the tourists hoisted up the white flag in 31 toe-curling overs of batting incompetence.

For Carberry, that was that.

“I fell out of love with the game,” he says. “There were numerous factors. I had to kick down doors to get into that England side. I don’t think my face ever fitted in that England set-up. I had to force my way in to get my opportunities but that’s the only way I’ve known my whole life.

“I came from humble beginnings in south London. You had to grow up tough and you had two choices – you either had to make something of yourself or you went to jail. That bred a mentality of never giving up, and of going out and achieving what you want to achieve.

“A lot of people put a block on that. I can’t speak for them, that’s just part of the corrupt system that I was playing in. My exit from Hampshire wasn’t great and nor was the way I was treated there. Then I had a pointless six months at Leicester. But at the end of the day, my conscience is clear. I’m not sure that other people in county cricket who have handled my career could say the same thing.”

Carberry played his final first class match in May 2018 and some private coaching apart, hasn’t been tempted to return to the professional game.

Instead, he has used a blank career canvas as a way of growing his reputation as an artist, while also working as a currency trader.

Given the strings he has to his bow, it’s enough to make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your own time.

Carberry, though, wouldn’t have it any other way and is looking forward to a healthy future in every sense.

“By god’s grace, I’m good,” he says.

“Whenever you get news like that [his cancer diagnosis] you just have to deal with it in your own way, in your own time.

“To some degree it probably robbed me of a couple of years playing cricket. It was a big operation and you’re never the same after an operation of that magnitude. From a health point of view, though, things are fine. The fact is that I’m out there in the big bad world now – a world where no-one cares if you’ve got 13,000 first class runs or an England cap.”

As he did with the bat, Carberry is intent on brushing aside any challenge that comes his way.