Talking cricket: Clarke`s spartan existence


WEST INDIES might have drawn the second Test, even won, if in- stead of an impetuous shot-player or two they had included a sage old batsman. Someone like Nolan Clarke, from Barbados, who opened for Hol- land the day after the Test and scored 86 in their NatWest Trophy game against Northamptonshire.

Blindfold Clarke, take him to a strip of 22 yards anywhere on this planet and he would have a shrewd idea of how it would play, and the shot-selection required. No drives skied into the air, as at Lord`s, no wide half-volleys chased.

So why wasn`t he there? Because Nolan Clarke is 46. Still good enough, of course, to have dominated the bowling of the cham- pionship leaders on Tuesday, and to have been the leading six- hitter in the Hong Kong Sixes last year, ahead of Brian Lara, Robin Smith et al. And because he has never been given the op- portunity.

Clarke went to the same school in St Michael`s parish as Van- burn Holder and David Murray, and began to learn his all-round game at the feet of Sirs Everton Weekes and Garfield Sobers. He played for Barbados for eight seasons from 1970, a sum total of 26 first-class matches in those amateur days.

In one of those games for Barbados, against England in 1973- 74, on a seaming pitch which Geoff Boycott recalled last week- end as "very difficult", Clarke scored 159 to set up a Barbados win by 10 wickets. Clarke recalls that "it was a good game".

Wisden relates he hit the last two balls of the second day from Mike Hendrick for four and six, and batted "with such power and confidence that he might have been devastating inter- national attacks for years".

The only bad timing of which Clarke was guilty was that he em- erged at the same time as Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards, Al- vin Kal- licharran and Lawrence Rowe. So 18 summers ago, to make some sort of a living, he began playing and coaching in Hol- land, and has done ever since. He used to play for Spartan in Barbados, now for Sparta in Rot- terdam.

It must have been hard to maintain his standards, playing limited-overs cricket only in Holland, as more than a one-eyed king. He cannot remember when last he could "go out to bat for ses- sions, work the ball around, set a bowler up". No-one in the country of the same ability and knowledge to play against, or even talk to.

As you would expect from a Barbadian of the old school, he is a traditionalist about conduct, too. On the Sunday before last in Rotterdam, after he had batted in a maroon hat, moving and looking rather like a younger Mandela, a ball hit by a Sparta batsman bounced just short of the boundary and a team-mate play- fully shouted `six!` Clarke signalled `four` to the umpire and ordered: "Don`t be stupid, send the ball."

"It`s nice that you always get a game in Holland," he reflect- ed at dinner that evening: for the matting can be laid down after rain. But this, I suspect, was a brave face in part. He has been able to watch the Tests in England in recent years on Dutch ca- ble TV, and knows that he could have done as well as some, or better.

Seven years ago, Clarke dreamt one day he would play against West Indies, and win. In 1991, after their tour of England, West Indies met Holland, and Clarke hooked one of their fast bowlers for six, and, in front of 3,500 spectators, Holland won by five wickets.

That day Malcolm Marshall called out to his captain Viv Richards: "Could we do with Clarkey in our team?" And Richards shouted in reply: "I`d drop half this team for Clarkey." Only joshing, but nice of them to say so. And though Clarke in his time had got no closer to the West Indies team than being a sub- stitute fielder in a Test match, they welcomed him into their dressing room after the game, and he lingered long there as an equal.It is good this old Barbadian has en- dured long enough to play in the World cup this winter.

Thanks:: The Electronic Telegraph (