Sylvester Theophilus Clarke
December 11, 1954, Lead Vale, Christ Church, Barbados
December 04, 1999, Christ Church, Barbados, (aged 44y 358d)
Right hand bat
Right arm fast
St Batholemews Boys School
Barbados, an island where cricket is more a way of life than a game, was already in a state of shock from the successive deaths of two of its finest players, Malcolm Marshall and Sir Conrad Hunte, when Sylvester Clarke collapsed and died at his home in Christ Church on December 4. He would have been 45 on December 11. Three weeks earlier, he had been one of the hundreds of cricketers saying their final goodbyes at Marshall's funeral. The day before, the startling news had been received of Hunte's passing. Clarke's wife, Peggy, reported he had complained of feeling unwell and had seen the doctor in the preceding week. But he had played for his club, Crusaders, up until a month earlier and there was no indication that his life was in jeopardy.
A strong, powerfully built fast bowler with a typically West Indian love of life and the game he made his profession, Clarke was restricted to 11 Tests by the simultaneous presence of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall and his decision to join the West Indian teams that broke the international boycott against the apartheid of South Africa in the mid-1980s.
Yet there was a host of players in England, where he spent nine productive seasons with Surrey between 1979 and 1988, who rate him as clinically fearsome as any of his contemporary West Indian colleagues. Those who played with and against him in South Africa, where he also represented Transvaal, Northern Transvaal and Orange Free State, speak in similar awe of his ability to generate frightening pace and steep lift from a relatively short, ambling approach and an ungainly, front-on delivery.
His secret was his immense strength and a snappy, pliable wrist that he used with telling effect. Like so many Barbadian Test players, Clarke came through the ranks of the BCL that has efficiently organised the game in the country areas for more than 60 years. A return of 21 wickets in his debut season for Barbados in 1978 included a hat-trick against Trinidad and a summons to the West Indies team for the Third Test of the home series against Australia after those contracted to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket - in other words most of the team - withdrew. In the absence of Roberts, Holding, Garner et al, he spearheaded the weakened attack on the subsequent tour of India where his 21 wickets in five Tests - including Sunil Gavaskar five times - made him the leading wicket-taker. His 5 for 126 at Bangalore remained his best Test figures. He toured Pakistan in 1980-81 when Holding was injured and Roberts rested, and Australia in 1981-82 when Marshall was getting over a back problem. But he saw little prospect of getting back on a permanent basis and joined others in a similar position on Lawrence Rowe's unauthorised and officially ostracised teams to South Africa in 1982-84. It was a venture that ended his cricket in the West Indies, for the players were all banned by the West Indies Cricket Board of Control.
While Clarke's Test record, spread over four years and four series, is unflattering with 42 wickets at an average of 27.85, the true measure of his effectiveness is better judged by his returns in England and South Africa. In the nine seasons he spent with Surrey (he missed 1985 with a back injury) Clarke gathered 591 wickets at the miserly rate of 18.99 runs each. His best year was 1982 when he took 85 wickets at just under 20 each and helped them to the Benson and Hedges Cup. In South Africa, his 193 wickets, at just over 20 each, included a new Currie Cup championship record haul of 58 wickets in 1985 at the astonishing average of 12.72 runs each. In his 238 first-class matches, he took 942 wickets at 19.52 runs each, including three hat-tricks - a statistic not matched by many others.
Barbadians and West Indians rarely saw him at his best. He played only one Test in the Caribbean, his first at Bourda, and had only 20 matches for Barbados (68 wickets at 27.91 each). Clarke had the uncompromising approach to batting typical of lower-order fast bowlers. He smashed an unbeaten 35 off 30 balls against Pakistan in the Second Test at Faisalabad in 1981 and his only first-class century, an even, unbeaten 100 for Surrey against Glamorgan a few months later, took him just over an hour and was the quickest of the English season.
It was in Pakistan that he was involved in an unfortunate incident in the final Test at Multan that brought him a two-match suspension for the subsequent home series against England. Showered with a volley of oranges and other missiles from the crowd, he reacted by tossing back a brick, used as a boundary marker. It struck and seriously injured a student leader in the stand.
At the end of his professional career he returned home to Barbados where he
continued to play in the BCL for his club, Crusaders, alongside his close friend and former Barbados and West Indies colleague, Collis King, until the time of his death.
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