September 14, 2006

Dileep Premachandran at the 2006 DLF Cup

A realtor's instinct to swing it

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Stuart Clarke bowled impressively in the middle overs, taking 2 for 45, Australia v Sri Lanka, VB Series, 3rd Final, Brisbane, February 14, 2006
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Down the years, the stereotypical Australian cricketer has been characterised as a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed bully. Such a perception is grossly unfair to many, and when you come across Stuart Clark, it's easy to see why such labels are half-baked and dangerously inaccurate. Clark is affable and soft-spoken, and in a suit, he would have no difficulty passing for the real-estate agent that he once was.

He also has one of the more intriguing nicknames in the game, Sarfraz, after Pakistan's reverse-swing king of the 1970s, and India will be hoping that he doesn't replicate the mustachioed wonder's performances if they face him on Saturday. In five one-day matches against India, the original had taken eight wickets at 15.50 and caused quite a ruckus with short-pitched bowling that prompted India to concede a game at Sahiwal in 1978-79.

With umpires clamping down on such tactics, Clark is unlikely to try and emulate that particular performance if called up to play the Indians, but they can certainly expect a searching examination from a man who has moved seamlessly into international cricket after being introduced as a Glenn McGrath clone and replacement. With McGrath now back in the fray, it remains to be seen how Clark's height and accuracy will be utilised.

He certainly won't be fazed by the occasion, as he showed on Test debut, when he routed South Africa with accurate seam bowling - match figures of 9 for 89 - that was straight out of the McGrath manual. And the confrontation with Sachin Tendulkar, who announced his return in thrilling fashion, is certainly one that he's looking forward to. "He's one of the best batsmen in the world," said Clark, talking to the media from the Traders Hotel where the teams are based. "It will be a challenge to play against him and hopefully I can get him out as well."

Like McGrath, Clark also puts a great deal of thought into his bowling, and he was convinced that the senior man's wealth of experience would come in handy when combating batsmen of the calibre of Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. "Glenn has played them a lot of times," he said. "So it will help. We will discuss them at the team meeting, and talk about different ideas."

The match on Saturday will also be Greg Chappell's first against his home country after he took over as India's coach. Apart from his status as legendary batsman and captain, Chappell knows some of the Australian boys especially well, having given the likes of Shaun Tait and Mark Cosgrove their first caps for South Australia during the final phase of his tenure as coach. He was also in charge of Australia A in 1994-95, a time when Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn were bidding to establish themselves as frontline players. Clark, however, preferred to play down the significance of that, saying: "Greg has a job to do. We are ready to combat anything he can bring along. We're not focused on playing against him but on playing against India."

Having surpassed the likes of Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz in the queue to support McGrath and Brett Lee, Clark, a late developer, is relishing his time with the national side. "It's a competitive team," he said. "There's more media attention and focus on your game once you're in the team. But you're also made welcome any time."

A "true-blue city slicker", to echo his own words, he certainly won't need to worry about getting tangled in wait-a-while bushes at the Kinrara Oval. But in its own way, a chance to front up against a powerful Indian line-up will be just as much of a challenge as a trek through the Queensland bush.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dileep Premachandran
Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.

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