BY MARCUS HOOK
Since returning to the Kia Oval mid-way through last season, Rikki Clarke has been Surrey’s most consistent bowler.
The 36-year-old all-rounder has taken 40 wickets at an average of 19.55 – including a career best 7-55 – in 10 championship appearances. He puts it down to rediscovering his love for the game.
“It’s going well and I’m enjoying my cricket – and that’s the most important thing,” says Clarke. “There have been times when I’ve seen cricket as a job and as a way of earning a living. But when I first started playing, it was a hobby. I love cricket, so now I think why not finish the same way? If I get hit for six, it’s not the end of the world, it’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to enjoy it.
“It’s not always the case that I’ve been in this sort of form, but I’d say, for quite a few years now I feel like I know my bowling. I know my body and I know my action.”
When Clarke left Surrey to become Derbyshire captain at the end of the 2007 season he was considered a batsman who could bowl, but now his strongest suit is most definitely with the ball in hand.
“When I was first at Surrey I had pace and I was often used as a strike bowler,” says Clarke. “Bowling short spells in what, at the time, was an amazing Surrey bowling line-up meant I didn’t get to bowl a lot, therefore I felt I had to work hard on my batting, so I could contribute in that way.
“But when I went away, Graeme Welch [who has now returned to Warwickshire as bowling coach] really grabbed me and said: ‘Look, I think you’re better than just a strike bowler. Let’s work on it.’ So I took that on board and worked hard.
“Every morning I got in about half an hour earlier than everyone else – running in, bowling loads and looking to hit a line and length and, over the years, I’ve bowled with more consistency.
“Now that I’m 36. I can’t have that many more balls left in me, so I don’t want to waste them too much. Also, I now know when my body needs a rest. Sometimes that means bowling less in the nets, so when I go into games I’m able to give 100 hundred per cent.”
Clarke says it now feels as if he’s never been away and even though his son has grown up knowing his father as a Warwickshire player, the Clarke household are Surrey through and through.
“It was always on the cards that I’d come back to Surrey at some point,” said the former England man. “Since coming back in the middle of last year it’s been brilliant, almost as if I’d never been away.
“I’ve always had a passion and a love for Surrey. Even when I was playing elsewhere, I’d always check to see how Surrey were doing.
“My boy loves Surrey, any sport really. We’ve just signed him up for the All Stars programme, so he can’t wait up and running with that. My bat sponsor have been really good in giving him some kit as well. I’m constantly throwing balls to him, so even when I’m not playing, I’m still bowling!”
Clarke cut his teeth playing club cricket for Guildford, where Surrey take on the County Championship leaders Somerset next week. But instead of moving south since making the switch back to the Oval, he has settled in the west country.
“Me and the family have moved to Wiltshire,” said Clarke. “It’s a lovely part of the world. We’re not too far from Stonehenge, a bit of countryside, a nice house – you get a bit more for your money than you do around London or in places like Guildford. But my mum still lives in Guildford, so I stay there when I need to get up to the Oval.”
Clarke has so many memories of Guildford. When Surrey last played Somerset at Woodbridge Road back in 2006, Justin Langer racked up 342. But the Australian described Clarke as the pick of Surrey’s attack.
Clarke remembers: “Yeah and I think someone said: ‘You haven’t seen him bat’ and I went and got 200!”
His 214 in the hosts’ reply remains his career best.
Following their innings victory over Hampshire, Surrey find themselves one point behind Somerset at the top of the table.
Reflecting on a superb win at the Ageas Bowl, which was sealed with a day to spare, Clarke said: “Obviously, the partnership between Burnsey [Rory Burns] and Foakesy [Ben Foakes] was brilliant. It was a little disappointing the tail couldn’t add a few more runs, but all in all it was a good start.
“The wicket at Southampton was a little bit up and down. The way we bowled, to bowl them out for 135 and 175, it was good we landed the ball in the right areas – in fairness the ball swung a little bit throughout the last two days – and we caught well.
“Something we’ve looked to do is bowl in partnerships. It’s really good having Morne Morkel. I’m happy I’m standing in the slips rather than having to face him at 22 yards. His rhythm and pace is what he brings to the game.
“But Rory set it up for us. The way the skipper has played this season, he doesn’t get enough plaudits. He continuously churns out runs, year after year at the top of the order. Hopefully, he will get the recognition he deserves with the runs he keeps on putting on the board.”
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