World Cup 2019: How Michael Carberry fought stomach cancer to become sketch artist

Updated: Jun 12, 2019, 12:39 IST | Harit N Joshi |

Former England opener Carberry reveals how he conquered blood clots in his lungs and then stomach cancer to forge a new career as a sketch artist

Carberry at a coffee shop in Thorn Heath yesterday. PIC/HARIT N JOSHI
Carberry at a coffee shop in Thorn Heath yesterday. PIC/HARIT N JOSHI

Harit Joshi Column‘God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers.’ Michael Carberry, 38, the former England opener can relate to this.

First, the wait to break into the England team frustrated him for more than four years. And when he finally got his chance in the first Test against Bangladesh in Chattogram in 2010 after Andrew Strauss was rested, a few months later he was laid low with a blood clot in the lungs. The left-handed opener fought back into the team from the career-threatening illness but the 2013-14 Ashes in Australia where England lost 0-5, claimed many places and Carberry was one of the victims.

As he moved county clubs to find a way to reclaim his English spot, he was jolted by the death of his younger sister.

Then, in 2016, Carberry suffered his life’s biggest blow when he was diagnosed with cancer in his stomach. He did bounce back from it and managed to find a county club, but a breakdown in relationship with Leicestershire forced him to hang up his boots.

First bat, now pencil

It didn’t take a lot of time for Carberry to find another career path for himself. By bidding adieu to his willow, Carberry took to another piece of wood, albeit a lot smaller — the pencil.

Bob Marley

The butterflies-in-the-stomach situation is similar to what it was when he first walked out to bat with Alastair Cook as Carberry prepares to showcase his sketches to the public for the first time on June 14 at an art gallery in London.

“I am using the skills I learnt in cricket in my art now. I have practised a lot. There have been so many drawings that didn’t work out and have been binned. Again, it is all about perseverance. It is like batting in a lot of ways. You start your innings, you may feel nice about something or you are tired, but you still stick in there and see things happening along. The response I have been getting has been amazing,” says Carberry at a coffee shop in Thorn Heath, the home of Crystal Palace football club.

Michael Carberry sketches WI's Chris GayleMichael Carberry sketches WI's Chris Gayle

He was very fond of sketching since he was in school. “I was away with cricket for 16 years thereafter. I felt I had lost some of my skills,” says Carberry, who featured in six Tests, six ODIs and one T20I for England.

Sketches provide solace while he was recovering from the Big C. “It gave my mind something else to focus on when I was going through the recovery process from cancer. I found that I was in more peaceful place.

A massive jolt

“Things were going well. It was a massive jolt to find out that I had cancer. That year did not really go well… felt very, very tired. I started losing weight and [felt] all those symptoms of cancer. It rocked my world. It took seven to eight months to get back the body in playing condition.

“There were paper and pencils around. I discovered something on YouTube and on social media about a UK-based artist Kelvin Okafor. I was blown away by his work. It was done with just a pencil. I saw some other stuff on the YouTube of a pencil and charcoal artist. They teach you how to be accurate with your sketches,” says Carberry, who also coaches a school team here.

Carberry’s purpose behind his sketches is the people who inspire him. “I just don’t draw people, I always think about why I am drawing. I have always been inspired by people’s journeys and how they have achieved them. So, they need not necessarily be famous people. They could be very successful business people whom I have met, heard or read about. I am inspired by people who inspire change and those who are not afraid to go against the system and speak their mind.

His inspirations

“Bob Marley spoke a lot about social issues globally. Martin Luther King brought a change of certain establishments. John Lennon is another one I have sketched. As far as sport is concerned, Anthony Joshua [professional English boxer] is someone I am a massive fan of. His story for me is very inspiring. He didn’t have the greatest start in his life but the way he has turned it around is massive. He is arguably one of the iconic sportsmen going around at the moment. There are cricketers who have inspired me like Shane Warne, who is very outspoken. He was a great help to me at Hampshire,” says Carberry.

It is no surprise that Carberry loves people who speak their mind. He did the same with Leicestershire CCC and was stripped off his captaincy last year, abruptly ending his cricket career. “I stood by my principles against Leicestershire, who were allowed to behave very badly in a very corrupt system. I was happy to walk away from something I loved so much. I wouldn’t like to dwell on it now as that chapter is over and I have moved on. I could have found another county team for myself as I am still fit enough, but I knew the journey will end soon and I didn’t want to hang in just to pay my mortgages. I didn’t want a young guy’s career being held up because of me and it was an easy decision to make,” he says about his retirement.

By the way, during our conversation, he revealed he has decided to retire from all forms of the game.

With the World Cup being played here, Carberry has just started a new sketch to pay a tribute to Indian legend MS Dhoni. “It could be his [Dhoni] last World Cup sadly. I was fortunate to play against him during the 2012 Champions League in Johannesburg. He is an absolute legend, absolutely ice cool. My next will be another legend in the making, Virat Kohli. I have a great
admiration for him as well,” he says.

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