Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 5th day November 27, 2006

Clark escapes from McGrath's shadow



Clark: more than just a mini-McGrath © Getty Images

Stuart Clark operates like he has been on the Test scene for years. A friendly, self-assured man, he has just taken seven wickets in his first match at home. It wasn't a surprise to Clark or his team-mates when he equalled the output of Glenn McGrath's seven wickets and he is on the verge of becoming indispensable.

After sneaking into the game ahead of Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait, Clark quickly closed the door on doubts over his impact by being the most consistent bowler in the match. More importantly, he proved he could co-exist with McGrath. He must play in the second Test at Adelaide on Friday.

Since being promoted to a standby member on last year's Ashes tour he has developed so much that those who saw him bowl for Middlesex struggled to believe the before and after versions. A 31-year-old who made his Test debut in March has learned new tricks.

In the South Africa series Clark relied on dropping the ball on a bottle-top target and let the movement offered by the pitches gain him a Man-of-the-Series award at his opening attempt. The spring when the ball pitched remained uncomfortable in this game, but he also employed pin-point bouncers. On surfaces such as Adelaide and Perth he will benefit from the variable bounce as the game wears on.

Comparisons with McGrath make him appear like an accurate seamer who is just above medium pace, but he pushed past 140kph at times during the Test and was used late on day four to ruffle Kevin Pietersen. The batsman had rarely been hurried during his 92 but Clark delivered a handful of short balls during a three-over burst and stung Pietersen on the arm. He will not become a regular enforcer, but he is more than a mini-McGrath.

The description is a help and hindrance. A masters student in commerce and a new father, Clark is his own man and has begun to forge an international identity.

What was most striking about his collection of 3 for 21 and 4 for 72 was the range of dismissals. Of the batsmen in his collection Paul Collingwood was upset in the first innings by a ball moving away, Ian Bell was set when he was drawn into an edge and Andrew Strauss was undone by a chest ball.

This morning he roared into the tail by inducing a couple of nicks to Shane Warne at first slip to remove Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard. As Warne threatened to finish the match, Clark interrupted to produce the final moment when Steve Harmison top-edged a hook to McGrath at fine-leg. Add in Clark's 39, which included two sixes from consecutive James Anderson offerings, and it has been an outstanding match for a player in only his fifth appearance.

Peter English is the Australian editor of Cricinfo