County Stalwarts: Rikki Clarke

Last week, Rikki Clarke called time on his long and distinguished county career. A terrific player for three counties who played the odd game for England in his youth, but who became a much more mature, and consistent, player in his late 20s. It is ironic that England never tried him again after the 2009 retirement of Andrew Flintoff, as he would’ve been capable of standing in for Ben Stokes when needed, too.

I say this not as a Surrey fan but an England fan – there are some players who you look at and think ‘why didn’t they make it at the highest level’? Clarke was a brilliant fielder, fine batsman and could’ve been a solid fourth seamer at test level. It wasn’t to be, however.

There are many players who can be analysed in this manner. James Vince, from the current generation, looks technically an excellent player, and has recently scored a one day international hundred, but has never been consistent enough at test level to warrant a permanent place in the side. My teenage years were also spent watching the likes of Messrs Hick and Ramprakash trying and failing to become consistent test class batsmen. John Crawley is another who underachieved despite phenomenal talent.

One of the criticisms of selectors in the 90s was that players were picked and discarded too quickly. While this was undoubtedly true, Hick, Ramprakash and Crawley also subsequently played under Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, and enjoyed longer and more stable runs in the side. However, all of them were eventually dropped for inconsistency.

Ironically the opposite criticism is now being made of the current England regime, in continuing to select Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley despite long periods of struggle – although the current situation is also complicated by COVID bubbles.

At the end of the day though, frustration is part of being a sports fan, perhaps even more so in cricket. Why can’t James Vince average over 40, and why didn’t Andy Caddick bowl as well on a daily basis for England as he did for Somerset? Each player, and each generation, will have its under and over achievers, and trying to generalise is impossible as each player is unique. Who’d be a captain, eh?

Spare a thought though for the players who never make it to the highest level. James Hildritch is widely cited as the best player of his generation never to play for England. Having watched some of his innings over the years, he’s certainly a fine player and might have served England well. At least Clarke and Vince made it to the top, albeit too briefly for their fans.

We all have our favourite players, either because we support their county or just love the way they play. And we’re all absolutely desperate to see them succeed at the highest level. Rikki Clarke was mine. He played pretty straight, swung the ball, and dazzled in the field.

Maybe there’s a parallel universe where Graeme Hick averaged 50 and blasted Curtly Ambrose all over the park in a Test match. And maybe there’s where Clarke took the reins from Freddie and played an integral role in England’s Ashes triumph down under under Strauss?

I hope the fans in that universe enjoyed the view.

Rikki Clarke – 264 first class games

11358 runs, average 32, centuries 17

29554 balls, 528 wickets, average 30, 8 five-fers

2 test matches, top score 55, best bowling 2-7.

Rob Stephenson


  • A great shame this fine player never got the recognition he deserved

  • I saw him make 150 in an early classic game at Taunton in 2002 as part of the marvellous Hollioake side. Ramps played in that one and scored a double century. Ricky was a bit of a handful in his youth but was an integral part of the great Surrey side at the turn of the century. He spent 8 years with Warwickshire before returning to Surrey in 2017. It revived his career and he took 50+ wickets in 2018 and become with Morne Morkel the bowler of the season winning Surrey the County Championship after 16 years
    A fine player with ball and bat, and probably the greatest slip fielder of the 21st century. Hardly drops anything, even now. His powers have waned a little approaching 40, and he’s off the start the Rikki Clarke Cricket Academy. England would do well to make him an offer! A fine player, a true all rounder (he could have batted at 6 for England) and a great career. And yes should have played for England a lot more, but then we would no have had him! Savour this one, there aren’t many this good.

  • I remember that Botham, who knows a thing or two about all-rounders, rated Clarke very highly. It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to make the final breakthrough at international level, although he hardly let anyone down in his two appearances in Test cricket. I wonder, however, whether either his batting or bowling was quite good enough. I think he would’ve made a good Test No.7 batsman and a 5th bowler. I wonder if he would’ve played a lot more if one suit was slightly stronger than the other i.e. if he was a better batsman who bowled just a bit, or a better bowler who chipped in with useful runs now and again. In county cricket, however, he was just about the ideal player to balance any side.

  • Rather the same fate as James Foster who was selected too early then never selected again when he was later a much better player.

  • Being a Warwick man saw a lot of Ricki in his later career. If the conditions suited he was a real asset but there were often times when his bowling was Cannon fodder and his batting struggled. Chris Woakes has certainly improved in recent years which may have something to do with Clarke’s presence. In short you never really knew what to expect.

  • To me the greatest enigma of those mentioned was Hick. He demolished County attacks in a manner which only Barry Richards did, and in response to the argument that County attacks weren’t up to much, why, then, did he have such a better County average than so many of his fellow Test batsman. He had no obvious technical weakness but never looked comfortable at Test level. I remember TrevorBailey saying that he had found County cricket so easy, and that was the only form he had played during his England qualification period, and he never adjusted to the greater demands at Test level, which is strange given how many Tests he played. Whatever, it always seemed to me that the problem was clearly in his head.

    • Another similar player was Ramprakash. Probably one of not the best more recent county batsmen. I think with Hick the West Indies demolished him at Test level and he never got that confidence back. But it’s not always about who is the “best”, it’s those who can adjust their mind to Test cricket. I think Clarke would have done so. In the current side, well Stokes has gone at least temporarily, but I only see Root as a real Test batsman, or should I say batter if that applies to Test cricket as well as the 100?

      • I would, until recently, have put Pope, at least potentially, in that category, but I’ve become less and less sure of that with each Test he’s played this season.

    • I always felt that Hick was a flat track bully
      Peter Drake
      Playwright teacher Hexham Northumberland

      • 178 at Mumbai against Kapil and Kumble when the rest of the batting order made 79
        110 against SA at Headingley against de Villiers
        118 no at Trent Bridge against Walsh
        141 at Centurion against Donald and Pollock ……..

      • Rubbish, “Peter Drake”! Some “teacher” you are. You should try getting out of Hexham (and Northumberland) a bit!

        • Hey Jonathan Denby
          Thanks for the comment. Did your “teacher” never teach you any manners? Still trying to make headway as a “playwright” from the look of things!
          (Don’t worry folks – we’re old mates!)
          Peter Drake

  • I’ve generally been of the opinion that a player is either good enough to get a run of, say, at least three Tests or they shouldn’t have been picked in the first place. Ricki Clarke ought to have been given more opportunities – he surely would these days.
    Going a bit further back, Martin Bicknell and Neil Mallender probably should have been given more chances. England’s list of one cap wonders who either should have won more or should never have been selected is almost endless.

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