Not your average cricketer
Ryan Carters and his quest to change lives
Sporting folklore is awash with tales of fallen and fatigued heroes who take a self-imposed sabbatical to re-assess their goals, re-ignite their passion or rehabilitate their ailing minds and bodies.
It says much about the different beat to which New South Wales opener Ryan Carters walks that he chose to not only embark on a journey of introspection at an age when many of his peers are necking buckets in a Balinese beachside bar, but that he opted to do it on the pristine waterways of the Mongolian steppe.
Despite earning the honour of final-year dux of his school (Radford College in Canberra) and then a berth on Victoria’s Sheffield Shield contract list, the aspiring wicketkeeper-batsman and Melbourne University arts and economics student found himself in a dilemma as he approached his 23rd birthday.
Restricted to 10 Shield appearances with Victoria across three seasons, the compact right-hander had decided to try his luck with New South Wales even though the Blues boasted established openers David Warner and Nic Maddinson and entrenched ‘keepers Brad Haddin and Peter Nevill.
But the opportunities that pre-occupied him were not confined to cricket.
Nor indeed, to the comparatively privileged first-world existence that he and his fellow first-class players were free to pursue.
"At that stage of my life I was at a bit of a crossroads in my cricket career where I had made a decision to move from Victoria to New South Wales," Carters told cricket.com.au.
"And I was thinking about ways I could combine my career in cricket with doing some things to help the people in the world who need it most.
"I've always believed that education is the best way to do that, because education is a gift that lasts a lifetime. It enables people to make their own choices in life - about where they find employment and how they raise their family - with an educated mind."
That was the kernel of an idea that Carters carried with him when he joined two of his former school friends on a flight to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar where they purchased a rudimentary canoe from relocated German journalist.
Armed with the boat, a tent, some basic supplies and a sense of nervous anticipation well known to the not-so-overly-prepared, the trio travelled three days to the landlocked nation’s north-west frontier to begin a three-week, 1,000km paddle from Lake Khovsgol along the Eg and Selenga Rivers to Russia’s Siberian border.
As the sweeping grassland, brooding mountainscape and the pervasive silence of all but the burbling snow melt beneath their craft worked their restorative magic, that initial kernel sprouted into the successful charity initiative ‘Batting for Change’ that Carters re-launched this week.
The idea, like the riverside villages where the wild-haired, heavily-bearded Australian adventurers would occasionally stop to share bitingly tart cheese and yak milk tea, is charmingly simple.
People sign up to pledge whatever they can afford – from a dollar or two through to thousands (in the case of philanthropic corporates) – to donate to the initiative’s partner organisation the LBW (Learning for a Better World) Trust every time Carters or one of his BBL teammates clears the fence when batting.
"I thought of this idea of combining Big Bash six-hitting with raising money for charity because I realised that’s the most exciting part of the BBL season from the fans' point of view," Carters recalls of the initiative that took shape as he helped pilot the canoe towards Russia’s famous Lake Baikal.
"But it’s also an opportunity to add another dimension to what hitting a six means."
Last year, opening the batting for the under-achieving Sydney Thunder in the KFC T20 Big Bash League, Carters and his fellow batters landed a tournament total of 23 sixes which enabled them to reach their pre-season target of $30,000.
With this money, the Sydney-based LBW Trust – which delivers educational opportunities for disadvantaged communities throughout the cricket world and includes Greg Chappell, Adam Gilchrist, Rahul Dravid and Kumar Sangakkara as well as ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and former and current Governors-General Sir William Deane and Sir Peter Cosgrove among its Patrons – was able to build three new classrooms at the Heartland School in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This year, having confirmed his signing with the Thunder’s cross-town BBL rivals Sydney Sixers, Carters has outlined an even more ambitious (and fitting) target of $66,666 to help support the further education of 500 young women in India.
And he has the full backing of his new Sixers teammates including Test players Brad Haddin, Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe and Moises Henriques.
"Specifically, the women are at the SPRJ Kanyashala Trust which is a women's college in Mumbai, and they'll be attaining degrees in arts, science or commerce at an undergraduate level," Carters said.
"The LBW Trust is a charity that brings cricketers and cricket lovers together in support of a global level playing field in education.
"I can't think of a better charity to support given my belief in the power of education to transform the lives of people who don’t have the same opportunities that we enjoy in Australia.
"One of the things that makes cricket such a wonderful game is that it’s played by people in so many parts of the world that have completely different backgrounds in life.
"The thing that brings us together is our love of cricket and our common humanity. In my career so far I’ve been lucky to travel to South Africa and to India twice and on those trips I’ve witnessed the inequality that exists within the cricket loving world."
Having transferred his Arts degree – majoring in economics with politics and philosophy thrown in – to Sydney University (for whom he also plays grade cricket), Carters is doubtless familiar with some of the better known aphorisms of Greece's pre-Socratic philosophers.
Such as the cryptic but oft-quoted words of Heraclitus who, challenged with the notion that ‘no man ever steps in the same river twice’, widely interpreted as ascertaining that the only constant in life is perpetual change.
For Ryan Carters, the change from Melbourne and Sydney could scarcely have been more productive.
Not only did he nail down that opener’s role in a Sheffield Shield-winning team, his 861 runs at 53.81 last summer was the best return for a batsman in their first year for NSW since Mark Taylor scored 903 at roughly the same average in 1985-86.
He is also hoping that the change from green to magenta in this year’s BBL will see him better his personal tally of sixes – he managed just the one last season, a crisply struck lofted off-drive from his now Sixers teammate Josh Hazlewood.
But the most significant and enduring change Ryan Carters foresees is in educational opportunities in the developing world, and the influence that ‘Batting for Change’ can effect as it – like the intrepid paddlers – finds its way along the route less travelled.
"I'm really excited about where Batting for Change can go in the next few years," Carters said.
"We've had a very exciting first 12 months and I’ve been amazed at the generosity shown by supporters and who knows, I think the sky’s the limit.
"The idea of having a bit of extra skin in the game in a way that can create meaningful change in people’s lives around the cricket-loving world is a really exciting concept and hopefully we can reach as many donors as possible this year and continue to grow in the future.
"It's amazing to know that our small change can help to change lives.
"I hope Aussie cricket lovers of all backgrounds and allegiances log on to our website and make a pledge to Batting for Change this summer."
To learn more about Batting for Change, and to donate, go to battingforchange.com.au