Clarke eyes redemption
The very nature of sport dictates that for every precocious young talent that becomes a superstar, there will be another that does not meet expectations.
In football, it seemed a million young Argentinians were dubbed ‘The Next Diego Maradona’. Only in the last few years, with the emergence of Lionel Messi, have we seen a player deserving of the title.
The same is true of cricket. Despite his impressive efforts against England in the fourth one-day international on Wednesday, Rohit Sharma has yet to live up to his initial billing as ‘The Next Sachin Tendulkar’.
While Rohit’s talent is unquestioned, it takes much more to become a star.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni said as much after that triumph two days ago, admitting: “He’s one of the most gifted cricketers that we have seen so unfortunately he has not done really well with whatever opportunities he has got. But it’s a waste if he can’t really make it.”
There are few cricketers more acutely aware that ability is not everything than Rikki Clarke, an all-rounder earmarked as another Sir Ian Botham seemingly from the moment he made his Surrey debut in 2002.
Few would have predicted a return of just two Test caps and 20 one-day internationals almost 11 years later.
Those numbers have little to do with his ability, as an incredibly candid Clarke revealed to ecb.co.uk, but instead a complacency that plagued the early stages of his career.
“I think I was a little bit too reliant on talent and natural ability,” he admitted in an exclusive interview. “I always thought I could get away with just that alone.
“But, as I’ve got older, I’ve realised you have to work on your game; it is not going to happen overnight. I was in a lot of places I should not have been in terms of drinking alcohol. I had a bit of a checkered early stage of my career.”
Yet a move to Warwickshire in 2008 revitalised Clarke, who has since become arguably the domestic game’s premier all-rounder.
That turnaround has not gone unnoticed with the 31-year-old being added to the England Lions party for their tour of Australia, which begins next week.
Asked whether the move to Edgbaston represented a turning point in his career, Clarke responded: “100 per cent.
“I have not helped myself over the years, but now I work incredibly hard on my game. I try to cover all aspects of my game equally and that is down to my time-management and a regime I have in place.
“It has probably hit home later than it should have, but by working hard on your game, the results come. By getting those results, you get these opportunities.”
And the opportunity is certainly one Clarke is looking forward to, though he hopes to be judged on what he does now rather than previous misdemeanours.
“For the last three or four years now, I’ve been well and truly on the right path,” he said. “I am a different person and a different cricketer. This is a great opportunity to have one big final push and hopefully I can deliver results for the Lions.
“I am under no illusions that I’ve probably been a bit of a Marmite cricketer over the years where some people love me and others hate me.
“For me, hopefully people do not judge me on what I did when I was 22, but what I am like now. Hopefully, I can turn people’s views on me as a cricketer. If I can do that, I can kick on and stake a claim for the full national side.”
The current England system has enjoyed plenty of success, both in developing youngsters and integrating experienced heads.
Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann represent examples of players who have matured into outstanding international players after facing questions earlier in their careers.
Those two - plus recently retired Australian Mike Hussey, who made his Test debut aged 30 - represent sources of inspiration for Clarke as he aims to earn full international honours once more.
“I’ve never been in a better position or better place to do that (earn a place in the England side),” he said. “I am not going to put too much pressure on myself heading into the tour.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is that Mike Hussey played 75 Tests for Australia and made his debut when he is 30.
“I’ve probably had a similar past to Swanny, who went on tours when he was younger and found himself out playing county cricket.
“He went and learnt his game and is now one of the best spinners in the world and that is what I have got to look to do. If I could emulate that, it would be brilliant.
“There is still a lot of optimism from my side. I just want to enjoy my cricket and hopefully the results are there to give the selectors another headache.”
While his primary focus during the Lions tour will be on delivering good performances, Clarke is happy to advise any youngsters in the hope they not follow his early path.
“You can only pass on the knowledge and experiences you have yourself and then they will choose their own paths and make their own decisions,” he added.
“I will obviously be the main senior guy and if I can pass on knowledge then I will do that. Being a senior guy, I would like to help the youngsters ones out as much as possible.
“It is not just about me and my goals, it is about helping everyone out as much as possible to ensure we go to Australia and get good results from everyone.”