September 29, 1981, Orsett, Essex
Right hand bat
Right arm medium fast
Broadwater, Godalming College
Promoted too early and written off too soon, Rikki Clarke is a prodigiously talented all-round cricketer who belatedly found the temperament to complement his talent. The words' potential' and 'unfulfilled' occur as frequently in articles about Clarke as long-hops used to in his overs. And that's quite frequently. But, after many frustrations, Clarke started to fulfil his extravagant gifts at his third county and blossomed into the fine all-rounder his ability always suggested he could become.
Clarke enjoyed a swift rise to prominence. Having won a Second XI Championship medal with Surrey in 2001, he made a century on first-class debut against Cambridge UCCE in 2002 and followed it with a majestic 153 not out against Somerset at Taunton. He helped Surrey to the Championship title that year and, in the process, won the Cricket Writers' Club Young Cricketer of the Year award. Fast-tracked into the England side aged just 21, he claimed a wicket with his first ball in international cricket - the first Englishman to do that for 31 years - and, promoted to the Test side for the tour of Bangladesh, scored a half-century and bowled tidily in his two Tests.
But progress was slower than anticipated. The 2006 season - when he was dropped by England for the last time aged only 25 - remains the only summer he has reached 1,000 first-class runs and, until his move to Warwickshire, he never took more than 22 first-class wickets in a season. He lost his Surrey place in 2007 and, reasoning that a new challenge was required, moved to Derbyshire as captain in 2008. It was an ill-fated experiment. After a poor run of results and worsening relationships with members of the coaching staff, Clarke resigned in August and, a few weeks later, joined Warwickshire.
The move revitalised his career. Forced to work hard on his fitness by Ashley Giles, the demanding director of cricket, and with the help of Warwickshire bowling coach Graeme Welch he found greater consistency claiming his maiden five-wicket haul in 2010 and a personal best at the time of 46 first-class wickets in 2011. From 2010 to 2012 he averaged in the low 20s with the ball and, in 2012, over 45 with the bat as his three centuries in testing conditions played a large part in helping Warwickshire to the County Championship title. While an England recall remained elusive, he was named in the 30-man preliminary squad ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013 and was fourth in the PCA's Most Valuable Player list in 2015. He also finished the 2015 season as the most economical regular bowler in the NatWest Blast T20 competition.
Unable to agree the long-term deal he wanted at Warwickshire, he returned to Surrey on a two-year deal midway through the 2017 season as part of a somewhat contentious swap that saw Dominic Sibley go the other way. While Warwickshire thought they had the better of a deal in securing the services of a highly-rated young player - and Clarke endured a tough game in the T20 quarter-final between the counties that followed shortly after the move - he topped the Championship bowling averages at Surrey (22 wickets at 19.81 including a career-best 7 for 55 against Somerset) that season to prove there was some petrol left in the tank.
It proved an inspired move. When Surrey won their first title for 16 years in 2018, Clarke, at 38, was very much the elder statesman, eager to ensure the young players energising Surrey's squad did not repeat his mistakes, and had enjoyed such a consistent season that he was shortlisted as the PCA Player of the Year. Despite Surrey's underwhelming title defence, 2019 was another strong year from a personal point of view, as Clarke proved their most consistent all-round performer in the Championship. His white-ball form tailed off, however, and he lost his place in the T20 side.
Tall, well-balanced and powerful with the bat and capable of sharp pace with the ball, Clarke also remains an exceptional fielder in all positions and set a world record for seven catches in first-class innings at Liverpool in 2011. The consistency came too late to win him a reprieve from the England selectors, but he proved himself a match-winner with the bat, the ball and with his fielding in the domestic game.
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