England opener Michael Carberry will be the man most under pressure in the first Test, as the tourists closed out preparations with a win in Sydney.
Michael Carberry faces a baptism of fire on Thursday at the Gabba, but the England opener couldn’t be better placed to handle being Australia’s No.1 target in the first Test.
The inexperience of Carberry at Test level makes him the obvious weak link in a star-studded top order, and Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle will like their chances in the Ashes opener.
But Carberry has earned his place.
He enters the first Test as England’s top scorer so far on tour and at 33 years of age, it’s either now or never for the journeyman left-hander who wears the space-age helmet.
Carberry made a solid 50 for the tourists in their comprehensive seven-wicket victory over an Invitational XI in Sydney on Saturday, after they were set a target of 148 on day four.
After getting little out of their tour matches in Perth and Hobart, England will take confidence from securing a win heading into Brisbane, even if there are doubts over their third fast bowler and question marks over the fitness of wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Carberry averages 44 at first-class level and made 34 in his one and only Test appearance against Bangladesh back in 2010, when he deputised for a rested Andrew Strauss.
In four first-class matches since September, Carberry has scored 85, 78, 153 and 50 to force incumbent opener Joe Root down to No.6.
However, as Australia A wicketkeeper Tim Paine pointed out in Hobart, Carberry can be vulnerable playing regularly through gully and Test spearhead Harris in particular will fancy his chances.
“It’s hard to ignore (the runs he’s scored on tour),” said the man he’s bumped from the top of the order, Joe Root.
“He’s a very experienced player … a calming influence and he knows his game very well.”
Australia will see Carberry as their gateway into the England middle-order and provided they bowl correctly to him, he’ll have to face an onslaught of pressure in the early exchanges.
However, like Australia’s 36-year-old opener Chris Rogers, Carberry has the benefit of life and cricketing experience behind him.
Certainly recovering from a career-threatening blood clot on his lung is a more frightening thought than full-pitched bowling.
“He’ll do well out here because he looks like a cutter and puller … if the Australian fast bowlers get it up it might be a different proposition,” said Invitational and former Test opener, Ed Cowan.
Rain looked like robbing England of a chance to take some winning momentum into Brisbane, but Carberry and then Jonathan Trott (38 not out) and Ian Bell (33no) saw the visitors home.
Promising Victorian legspinner James Muirhead (2-66) finished off a strong performance, bowling Alastair Cook (21) brilliantly and getting Carberry caught at mid-wicket to go with his dismissals of Kevin Pietersen and Bell in the first innings.
Cowan said Muirhead took advantage of a classic SCG wicket and the best pitch he’s seen in Australia in years.
“His best deliveries are well and truly good enough to get world class players out,” he said.
“It’s a question of how many balls you can bowl in the right place, but a massive guy for the future.”