Hostile Clarke puts Lancashire on back foot
Warwickshire 39 for 1 v Lancashire 227
Read any article about Rikki Clarke and the word 'potential' will occur as frequently as a half-volley used to appear in one of his overs. And that's pretty often. Indeed, 'potential' might just be the most over-used word in cricket. Some players are described as full of potential well into their 30s.
Now, however, a decade into a career that has so far promised far more than it has delivered, Clarke finally seems to be fulfilling some of the immense talent that first earned him an England call-up at the age of just 21.
The 29-year-old Clarke is now, against all expectations, emerging as the most reliable member of an impressive Warwickshire attack. After several years where his bowling had become almost irrelevant, Clarke has finally found the consistency to add to the pace and skill he has always possessed.
Warwickshire were certainly grateful for his bowling on the first day of their Championship match against Lancashire. Clarke, bowling with pace, hostility and, more pertinently, consistency, claimed three top-order wickets, three catches and played a key role in bowling Lancashire out for just 227. So, might he now be fulfilling all that expectation?
"That word 'potential' has been there ever since I was 18 or 19," Clarke said afterwards. "And I'll admit that there were probably times when I played for England and I didn't warrant a place. I got there on potential.
"Why have I not fully fulfilled that potential? Well, it's not for lack of trying, I can tell you. But maybe I did take that potential for granted a little bit. I'm definitely working harder than ever before and I've taken playing for England out of the equation. I'm just not thinking about it.
"There's still time. You just look at other guys like Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett and Ryan Sidebottom. They showed you can come back into the side. If they can do it, so can I. And I know this is a cliche, but the best thing I can do now, is just concentrate on taking each day as it comes and doing my best for Warwickshire.
"I know my game far better now. I know my bowling action and I feel really comfortable and confident. I'm at a club where I'm backed and I feel I can relax a bit more and enjoy my cricket."
There are many who doubt Clarke and he knows he'll have to do perform over a much longer period to win them over. There are few men in county cricket who can bowl at pace and command a place in the top six of their batting line-up, however, so if Clarke continues his current form, he may yet have more of a role to play in international cricket.
The first day of this game was not all about Clarke, however. Boyd Rankin bowled equally as well and, thanks to some tailend wickets, ended up with the more impressive figures. The lofty Irishman, extracting nasty lift from the sluggish surface, claimed his second five-wicket haul in three Championship games and wrapped up the Lancashire innings by taking the final three wickets at the cost of one run in just five balls.
Rankin, encouraged to bowl short by his captain, Ian Bell, proved too hostile for the lower-order and troubled all the batsmen with his probing line and steep bounce. He, too, may yet have a role to play for England. While there are a couple of similar bowlers ahead of him in the queue at present - Tremlett and Finn spring to mind - Rankin is only 26 and still seems to be improving.
"I want to play cricket at the highest level I can," Rankin said afterwards. "In an ideal world that would be for Ireland but, to be honest, I can't see Ireland getting Test status in the near future. I can't see it happening in my playing lifetime.
"And if the ICC decide to exclude us from the World Cup, there will be very little incentive for us. The World Cup gives us something to aim for. If they don't let us play, you'll see loads more young Irish lads come over to play in England and cricket in Ireland will just fade away."
This was not a particularly impressive batting display from Lancashire, however. Karl Brown and Steven Croft both fell when they left straight deliveries, while Mark Chilton edged a horribly loose drive and Gareth Cross rather spoiled his fine innings when he played on as he attempted to force without foot movement.
Their entire innings was built around two noteworthy stands. First Stephen Moore and Chilton added 63 for the third wicket, before Cross and Luke Procter added 90 for the sixth. None of them managed to convert their good starts into the substantial innings their team needed, however. Moore, dropped by Clarke at slip off Rankin when he had 45, was unable to capitalise and was adjudged lbw after he propped half forward to the same bowler. It was the sixth time in nine innings this season that Moore has been dismissed with his score between 45 and 73.
When Procter fell, prodding at one outside off stump, it precipitated a dramatic collapse, with. Lancashire losing their last five wickets for the addition of just eight runs in 40 balls. It's the first time Lancashire have been dismissed for under 450 in their first innings this season. On a pitch of variable bounce, however, it may not prove to be quite such an inadequate total as it seems at first glance.
James Anderson, bowling with good pace, soon dismissed William Porterfield with one that nipped back when Warwickshire began their reply. But Bell and Varun Chopra survived a torrid evening session to see their side to the close without further loss. Bell is captaining Warwickshire in place of the injured Jim Troughton, who hurt his shoulder in the field on Monday, while last season's captain, Ian Westwood, was dropped to make way for Jonathan Trott.
Lancashire, meanwhile, are without Sajid Mahmood and Farveez Maharoof, both of whom are suffering from minor injuries. Instead, they are fielding two left-arm spinners, with Simon Kerrigan playing his first Championship game of the season. On a pitch which has so far favoured the seamers, it's a decision that may come to rue.