Severywhere among his old kit and other bits, Rikki Clarke has a bold scrapbook, full of dog-eared clippings from the summer of 2002. He was 20 years old and was in the form of a form that took him from Surrey’s second XI to the English team in three months.
“Clarke in Like Flynn” was the Guardian headline when he hit 153 against Somerset, “Clarke’s Flash of Lightning” when he hit three sixes in an innings against Yorkshire, and “Rikki’s a Rare Talent” was over a full-page profile in the Observer when he won his first call-up to England for the Champions Trophy in September.
“England has found ‘the one’,” the report ran. “A crushing bat that also bowls, and throws and catches with the energy and sweat of the modern game.” He was, his captain, Adam Hollioake, said: “The best young player nearby.”
Clarke was one of a group of young players that England had introduced into their one-day squad when they started planning the World Cup in 2007. The rest – Kabir Ali, Chris Read, Will Jefferson, Jim Troughton, Vikram Solanki – stopped many years ago . Only Clarke is still running. He took two for 62 against Essex last Sunday, went in No. 6 and made 12 on Monday.
These are his last days on the field. He hopes to get another match (“if I’m fit and selected”) against Glamorgan next Tuesday. Next up is his testimony match for an all-star Surrey team at Tidworth Grounds in Shrewton on 26 September.
Clarke then started as director of cricket 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 knocking around the edge of the game, county seekers looking for an edge. Clarke has a lot to pass on.
When Clarke was around that age, he went from playing second XI cricket at Banstead in May, to warm-up 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 selected for the Tour of Bangladesh that winter, played two Tests, scored a fifty and took four wickets to 60. And that was it. There were a handful of more one-day matches, some he beat No. 8 and did not bowl, others No. 4 and came through as many as 10 overs. By the time the 2007 World Cup came, Clarke had been dropped.
He still says the first caps are his proudest achievement. “I always said I should play for England. I used to get in trouble at school because I wanted to practice my signature on the back of my books and the teacher said to me, ‘Look, you’ll never do that’. So the next thing I knew I was on an England tour thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ “
When I saw him from a distance all these years, I think Clarke made peace with all this a long time ago, but there is clearly still something there and niggled at him. He chews it over. “I would not say that the selection 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 best part of 18,000 runs. But he will never quite know what he could have done in international cricket. “The only thing is that I wish I had a better chance of cementing my place. I played two tests and I looked at them and I did well, averaging 15 with the ball, 32 with the bat and I never got another chance. ”
In the one-day team, the way he was mixed around meant he never understood his role in the side. “Some people say you have to take your chance no matter where you hit, and I did not. I understand that. “
He never stopped waiting for the second chance through his years in Warwickshire and Surrey, as he was on average in his 40s with bats and 20s with the ball. “There is always that hope. Michael Hussey, Chris Rogers won both calls in the late ages, Joe Denly did it recently. ”
England called him up to a 30-man squad in 2013, but that was it. Then somewhere along the way “I accepted that I was chasing something that could actually be out of my control.”
He has played some of his best cricket since, as a senior professor, and passed on what he has learned. “You must fail, you can not fear failure, but you must learn from it. How to become a better player and a better person. Believe me, I have failed a lot. ”
Sorry? He does not like the word. “But there is one thing – I wish I had done it my own way. When I went into the English side, I had all these different coaches to tell me different things, and I changed my bowling action too much instead of sticking to what I had and working on doing it better. If I had trusted what got me there in the first place, you never know, maybe it would have been different. ”
As a 39-year-old, he says Clarke has gone full circle and his action is pretty much the same as it was when he was 19. “But the wickets I have taken, the races I have scored, the people , I have played with and against, the trophies I have won, I could only have dreamed of it all.
“Could it have been better? Of course it could. But sometimes that’s how it goes with careers, and that was how mine unfolded. That’s how it was meant to be. ”