Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rikki Clarke - Blast from the Past

Rikki Clarke is enjoying what can only be described as a  renaissance season, into his 4th season with the Warwickshire Bears he is enjoying a great start to the season as we near the end of May. Warwickshire stand atop the first Division after four wins from 6 games, and Clarke has been integral to this run of form - he along with Tim Ambrose saw the side home on Saturday morning as they defeated Surrey by 5 wkts at the Oval.  Clarke finished on 40 not out, continuing his impressive form with the bat. After 9 innings he is averaging 81, compared to last season where he finished the season with an average of 26.57 from a total of 558 runs, already he has amassed 486 runs in less than half the time.

Taking a rare day off from his gruelling summer of playing and travelling, I ask him why has there been such a good start to the season by both the Bears and himself, 'I feel after coming so close at the Rose Bowl last season, we sat there and were committed to take that disappoint and go one better this time.  We all work hard on our game, there is a great team spirit and enjoy our success with each other.  In terms of batting, I have worked on my balance more because I am a tall guy, so I've worked on getting to face the bowler which allows me to get better positions and see the ball more.'

Is it tough being an all-rounder in terms of work-load, 'I dont want to say its not difficult, but it is nice to do a bit of this and that, yeah the runs have come a bit easier this year, but the wickets may have dried up but I still am bowling a 2.5 economy and taking catches, yet we do work very hard on all parts of the game.'

Last year, Clarke took a world-record equalling 7 catches against Liverpool which garnered some special press attention, so does catching come naturally or is it hard work? 'In the team we all work very hard, myself, Chops [opener Varun Chopra], Madds [veteran Darren Maddy] and Wills [William Porterfield] all work very hard as a group so even when the runs might not be there we can take an important catch for the team.  In the pre-season I sat down with Ashley Giles [director of cricket at Warwickshire and England selector] about doing better with my time management so I do enough bowling and batting in the nets  without neglecting any of the other three main components of the game and I have definitely benefited from that talk.'

Following on from the criticism aimed at Jonny Bairstow's poor showing against fast bowling in the 2nd Test match at Trent Bridge, Sir Ian Botham stated that Bairstow would not have seen bowling like Kemar Roach at county level, Clarke took issue with this statement, 'There are definitely, quick bowlers out there, okay not loads like we want but there are enough and the overseas stars who come over also help.  Yet county cricket is still a decent platform for test cricket, look at Jonathan Trott who scored runs straight away and has fitted in, but he made a name for himself in the county game.  You cannot win county games without hard work, so it is still a good springboard for the Test arena.'

When talking about test cricket, I sense Clarke yearning for something else this season, is there an ambition to play in that arena yourself? 'I am getting on now, I am the other side of 30 but I would like to play again for England and to do that I just have to be consistent and hopefully people will recognise the work I put in.' I asked tentatively, if he thinks he let himself down when he did play for England, judging by the averages, 'I think in the two tests I played in Bangladesh, I did do myself justice. I averaged 32 with the bat and 15 with the ball (traditional indicators of all-rounder status is your batting average should be higher than your bowling average) and in the 21 one-dayers I played I only batted 13 times and in some instances I batted in four or five different positions so due to that I was not afforded the time to get a mental base, yet I remain hopeful and optimistic about a call-up.' Has he thought about asking the aforementioned Giles about that possibility? 'I should do [he sniggers] but all I can do is make sure my name stays out there, I am sure there are plenty of others out there doing the same thing hoping for that call but all I can do is foucs on my own performance.'

Being a team player is there anyone in the Warwickshire line-up he feels is due a look at Test or one day level, if he is bypassed for the call-up? 'Varun Chopra is the best county batsmen in the game at the moment.  He had a good year last year, and is backing it up with more runs this season, he gives himself a lot of time at the crease, has all the shots and is a good lad to.'

So the ambition for the season remains the title? 'It is but we are aware of taking each day as it comes, one day at a time, we are aware of the hype that is around us in the press and media but we came close yet are wary that there is a lot of cricket left to play.  I still love playing in the county game.' 

It can be a grind though can't it? 'When you are in a winning team, it is different, we have a great camaraderie in the dressing room, we enjoy each others company and want to take that next step towards getting the title, and we know we can only do that together'.

Clarke who is enjoying the benefits of stability, and like he said himself balance in play and life, is now a model of consistency and someone who would not let the team down, either by taking a vital catch or run out or grabbing a cameo 30-40 runs to help set or chase a target.  When he last played for England, Clarke was a victim of selectorial circumstance, you get the sense he would relish the challenge, England could do a lot worse than picking this blast from the past.

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