When Neil Carter played his first game of Twenty20 cricket, he was already closing in on 30 years old. Strange, then, that he was ahead of his time.
Carter was in the Warwickshire team which played its first ever T20 match, against Somerset at Taunton on June 13, 2003.
The members of that XI – Nick Knight, Jonathan Trott, Dominic Ostler, Carter, Ian Bell, Trevor Penney, Collins Obuya, Graham Wagg, Neil Smith, Keith Piper and Waqar Younis – were to have differing fortunes in their T20 careers. But Carter was ahead of the game.
With the bat, that is. His left-arm swing bowling was a useful weapon but it was his batting style, essentially regarding every delivery as a boundary-in waiting, all being well a six, which set a template – and delivered great entertainment.
There were a few of us playing like that back then and some people didn’t agree with it.Neil Carter
That is not to belittle his contribution in first-class cricket. A case could be made that Warwickshire would not have won the County Championship in 2012 without the influence of Carter. True, he played only two games that season, but he had pretty much single-handedly kept them up two years earlier.
In 2010, while other senior players floundered, Carter stood tall to finish top of the batting averages (of those who played regularly) and take 51 wickets at 22.13 apiece. His influence was encapsulated at home to Lancashire when, with 15 stitches in a head-wound from a Saj Mahmood bouncer, he scored 69 out of a total of 113 in which the next highest contribution was Imran Tahir’s nine.
Without ‘Carts,’ two years later the Bears may well have not been in the First Division to win it.
It is, though, his limited-overs batting which kindles most memories. On that first day at Taunton his nine-ball 15 included one six, the first of 67 times he was to clear the ropes in the format. He sent spectators – and, one spectacular day at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes, scorers – diving for cover as he sought to tee off from Ball One.
It was an approach about which, in those early days – the very dawn of T20 – some onlookers were sniffy. Now? Par for the course.
“I was 28 when I played my first T20 so I came late to it, as I did to first class cricket really,” said Carter, now 42. “It was new to us all and people played their different ways but I just went in and batted with freedom and tried to put bat to ball.
“There were a few of us playing like that back then and some people didn’t agree with it. But now most players play that way, even the orthodox batsmen, and totals are just getting bigger and bigger.
“There was no IPL, Big Bash and the like back then, of course – unfortunately. If I was ten years younger it would have been perfect!”
Instead of tearing up the batting textbook, Carter now devotes his time to teaching from it. Shortly after leaving Warwickshire after the 2012 season, he became cricket professional at Bishops College, an independent school in his native Cape Town. A renowned centre of cricket excellence, close to the Test ground at Newlands, the school is used for training by the Cape Cobras and some of the South Africa team during the winter.
Carter’s bright mind and affable personality always suggested that he would become a talented and effective coach – and so it has proved. Like former Bears colleagues, Darren Maddy and Michael Powell, he has found the school environment to be one in which he thrives.
The lads are mostly a pleasure to coach. It’s the parents who can be a bit troublesome when they think their son is batting like Hashim Amla when really he isn’t.Neil Carter
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “The lads are mostly a pleasure to coach. It’s the parents who can be a bit troublesome when they think their son is batting like Hashim Amla when really he isn’t. But each class has an academic teacher as well, so they deal with most of that.
“It’s a great test trying to work out what approach is best for each youngster. Some need encouragement and an arm round their shoulder, other need a tougher approach. It’s not a precise art. You have to work out all the permutations and that’s what makes it fascinating.
“I was lucky enough to play under a lot of very good captains and coaches during my career and, as a teacher, you take bits and pieces from all of them. Hylton Ackerman was my first, then Bob Woolmer, John Inverarity, A.D and Gilo were all big influences.
“But I also worked out a lot for myself and I think that’s important, especially for a bowler. As your career goes on you get to know your body and when to go hard and when not so hard. You learn about yourself. And there is also a lot of luck involved.”
Carter’s coaching career has just begun but his playing days are over. His last competitive cricket was in the ill-fated Masters Cricket League in Dubai last winter (like others, he is still to be paid for it). After leaving Warwickshire he represented Scotland in three ODIs and, when he made his debut, against Pakistan at Edinburgh in 2013, he became the first player to make his international debut after retiring from first-class cricket.
But school commitments mean that his boots remain firmly hung up.
“The boys play every Saturday and it’s declaration cricket, from 9.30am to 6.30pm, 130 overs, so that takes out the whole day,” he said. “I am just a watcher now but still follow the Bears’ fortunes very closely and am in touch with a lot of the guys. I saw Jim Troughton and Michael Powell when they came out to South Africa this winter and Trotty FaceTimed me a picture of the guys in their suits at the council house the other week. I have really fond memories of the Bears.”
Those fond memories are, it is safe to say, fully reciprocated at Edgbaston.
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