DateLine: 13th February 2006
Rikki Clarke burst onto the county scene in 2002, winning the Championship in his debut season. He averaged 44 with the bat, and took useful wickets as Surrey Won the title for the third time in four years. His chance had come in the saddest possible circumstances, with Adam Hollioake missing the first half of the English season after the death of his brother Ben. His impact was enough for him to be voted the Cricket Writers Club Young Cricketer of 2002, an award which usually means a decent career to come. Success with one of Englandís more glamorous sides was always going to make him a candidate for international selection, and in the winter of 2002-3 he toured Sri Lanka with the England Academy. He played regularly in the 2003 Natwest series against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and South African, although as he generally batted at no.7 and was the sixth bowler, his contribution was somewhat limited. His debut had been memorable though, scoring a duck and then dismissing Imran Nazir with his first delivery in an ODI, becoming only the second Englishman to do so after Geoff Arnold. He was picked for the full tours to Bangladesh and the West Indies that winter, despite his bowling not having developed as hoped. In the absence of Andrew Flintoff he took the all-rounders spot against Bangladesh, where he made a turgid 14 off 93 balls in the First Test, as England were nearly suffocated by spin on a slow Dhaka wicket. In the Second Test he had match figures of 3-11 and scored a composed 55. However, Flintoff took the all-rounder spot back for the Test series in the Caribbean, and Clarke was a very peripheral, non-playing squad member of the triumphant Test team. Even in the ODIís which followed, his all-round abilities were marginalised thanks to England also fielding Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and Ian Blackwell, and his bowling started to be expensive, with even Marcus Trescothick being bowled ahead of him sometimes. Although his action is a carbon copy of Martin Bicknell, his returns, alas, havenít been, and he is now firmly a batting all-rounder, with even a struggling Surrey side only reluctantly asking him to bowl. It is his bowling which is holding back his chances of a return to the Test team, although with a preference for playing in the ĎVí he has a high degree of technical excellence with willow in hand. He has grown his hair recently, although it is for his generally unglamorous physical features that he is most often barracked by boozy crowds. However, of more concern, to both Clarke and the crowd, should be why his potential remains unfulfilled, with rumours continuing to come out of South London that if he had a change of attitude his batting average could be double that of his bowling, rather than the 37 with the bat and the 42 with the ball that he currently manages.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)