SSomewhere between his old gear and other things, Rikki Clarke has a thick scrapbook, filled with dog ear clippings from the summer of 2002. He was 20 years old and in a shape that took him from Surrey’s second XI to the team. from England in the space of three months.
“Clarke in Like Flynn” was the Guardian’s headline when he hit 153 against Somerset, “Clarke’s Flash of Lightning” when he hit three sixes in an inning against Yorkshire and “Rikki’s a Rare Talent” was above a full page profile on the Observer. when he won his first England call-up for the Champions Trophy that September.
“England has found ‘the one’,” the report said. “A swashbuckling bat that also bowls, and throws and catches with the energy and sweat of the modern game.” He was, their captain, Adam Hollioake, said: “The best young player in the area.”
Clarke was part of the group of young players England brought to their squad one day when they began planning the 2007 World Cup. The rest – Kabir Ali, Chris Read, Will Jefferson, Jim Troughton, Vikram Solanki – all quit years ago. Only Clarke is still at it. He took two for 62 against Essex last Sunday, came in at No. 6 and posted 12 on Monday.
These are his last days on the circuit. He hopes to have one more game (“if I’m fit and I’m selected”) against Glamorgan next Tuesday. Below is his testimonial match, for a Surrey All-Star Team at Tidworth land at Shrewton on September 26.
Clarke will then start as a cricket director at King Edward’s, Witley, where he also runs a cricket academy. Right now, he’s working with his “elite group,” many of them kids who roam the fringes of the game, the county trialists looking for an edge. Clarke has a lot to convey.
When Clarke was that age, he went from playing the second XI cricket at Banstead in May to preparation matches for England in Colombo in September. He made his international debut against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2003 and took a wicket (Imran Nazir 33 c Solanki b Clarke) with his first ball. It was a long jump.
He was chosen for the Bangladesh tour that winter, played two tests, scored a fifty and took four wickets for 60. And that was it. There were a handful more games a day, some hitting No. 8 and not pitching, others No. 4 and exceeding 10 overs. By the time the 2007 World Cup rolled around, Clarke had been eliminated.
He still says those first international matches are his proudest achievement. “I always said that I was going to play for England. I used to get in trouble at school because I would practice signing on the back of my books and the teacher would tell me, ‘Look, you’re never going to do it. Then the next thing I knew, I was on a tour of England, thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”.
Looking at it from a distance all these years, I suppose Clarke made peace with all of this a long time ago, but clearly there is still something there that bothers him. Chews it. “I wouldn’t say that the national team stopped my development, but it was a setback.”
Clarke has won a lot, three championships, two one-day titles, two T20 finals. He has taken 800 wickets and scored the most of 18,000 runs. But he will never know what he could have done in international cricket. “The only thing is, I wish I had more opportunities to cement my place. I played two Trials and I looked at them and I did well, I averaged 15 with the ball, 32 with the bat and I never had another chance ”.
In the team one day, the way they shuffled him meant he never understood his role on the team. “Some people say you have to take a chance wherever you hit and I don’t. I understand that. “
He never stopped looking forward to that second chance, throughout his years in Warwickshire and Surrey, when he averaged 40 with the bat and 20 with the ball. “There is always that hope. Michael Hussey, Chris Rogers won senior calls, Joe Denly recently did. “
England called him up to a 30-man team in 2013, but that was it. Then, sometime along the way, “I accepted that I was chasing something that might actually be out of my control.”
He has played some of his best cricket since, as a senior professional, he passed on what he has learned. “You need to fail, you cannot fear failure, but you have to learn from it. This is how you become a better player and a better person. Believe me, I have failed a lot. “
Regrets? You don’t like the word. “But there is one thing: I wish I had done it my way. When I got into that England team, all these different coaches were saying different things to me and I changed my bowling game too much instead of sticking to what I had and working to improve it. If I had trusted what got me there in the first place, you never know, maybe it would have been different. “
At 39, he says, Clarke has come full circle and his action is pretty much the same as when he was 19. “But the terrains I’ve taken, the runs I’ve scored, the people I’ve played with and against, the trophies I’ve won, I could only have dreamed of it all.
“Could it have been better? Of course it could. But sometimes that’s the thing about racing and that’s how mine turned out. This is the way it should be.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism