|Event:||Pakistan in British Isles 2006|
DateLine: 2nd September 2006
Rikki Clarke is ready to take any chance he's given in England's one-day series against Pakistan after two years in the international wilderness.
The Surrey all-rounder has long been seen as a potential support and back-up to Andrew Flintoff but although possessed of a fine record at first-class level - he averages 40.62 and has scored 10 centuries as well as bowling at a lively place - he has yet to reproduce his county form in an England shirt.
But Clarke, who hopes to be in England's team for the second match of five against Pakistan at Lord's here Saturday, after appearing in Wednesday's rain-affected opener at Cardiff, insisted he was a smarter cricketer now than when he made his international debut.
"It's been a couple of years on I'm a bit older and wiser and a bit more mature," Clarke told reporters at Lord's on Friday. "I've started to know my own game a lot better now," he added with the World Cup just six months away.
"Things have gone well this season for Surrey and fingers crossed I will put in some good performances for England during this one-day series.
"As you get older you do grow up. There were times previously when if things didn't go my way I was a little bit eager to chase an England place and show people what I could do.
"I was very eager to get back into that England side. I was chasing runs before facing a ball and chasing wickets before trying to hit the right line and length - it's every schoolboy's dream to play for their country and that's what I was chasing."
Called up into England's 2002 Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka at the tender age of 20, and with only nine first-class matches behind him, Clarke made 17 one-day international appearances over the next two years without convincing.
"It probably came a bit too soon," he admitted. "Cricket is all about ups and downs, but it's how you deal with them and I probably didn't deal with it that well to start with."
Not the most economical of bowlers - he has so far gone for 5.21 runs per over in his one-day international career - Clarke believes he is capable of becoming a more disciplined performer with the ball.
"Hopefully if I can stay disciplined and bang it in on a line and length consistently then the wickets will come," he said.
Clarke, who faces competition for a place Saturday from off-spinning all-rounder Michael Yardy, received a boost Friday when England decided not to call up a replacement for fast bowler Stephen Harmison, out of the series with a back problem.
"If something does happen we can call in someone," explained England coach Duncan Fletcher.
"If someone came in there's a very good chance they'd just be a reserve and he can just play county cricket - we want to look at those players who are playing for us at the moment."
(Article: Copyright © 2006 AFP)