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.