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Obituary: Sylvester Clarke

SYLVESTER CLARKE became the third Test cricketer from Barbados to die in five weeks when he collapsed in his home in Bridgetown last Saturday. He would have been 45 next Saturday.

Malcolm Marshall died in a Bridgetown hospital after treatment for cancer on 4 November. He was 41. Conrad Hunte, 67, died of a heart attack in Sydney, Australia, last Friday.

Sylvester Clarke played 11 times for West Indies, at a time when they could probably field enough genuine fast bowlers to supply every other Test-playing country, but is best rememberd in England for his time with Surrey, from 1979 to 1988, when he played 152 matches. A genial personality off the field, he was a terror with the new ball.

One famous England batsman, it is rumoured, would call off sick from a visit to the Oval if he had it confirmed that "Sylvers" was bowling.

A tall, powerful right-arm fast bowler, with a ferocious inswing and a fearsome bouncer, a punishing hitter down the order, he first appeared for Barbados in 1978, taking 6-39 including the hat-trick, against Trinidad, and joined Surrey two years later. He took 82 wickets, at an average of 19.95 in 1982, the year they won the Benson and Hedges Cup. He missed the whole of the 1985 season through injury before, in 1988, he took 63 wickets for the county, at an average of 14.49.

During those years his action, when bowling his faster ball, excited comment and controversy. Both Lancashire and Yorkshire, among several county clubs, complained about his delivery but no umpire ever ruled his action as unfair. One Yorkshire batsman told me: "It's not for me to say whether he chucks or not but there is something very unusual about his quicker ball in that you seem to lose sight of it when it leaves his hand."

Surrey always maintained that Clarke bowled legitimately, pointing out that his was an unusual delivery in that the batsman saw the chest almost full on, instead of the left shoulder, and that the arm came over very rapidly, but high, when dispatching the faster ball.Whatever the cause, more than a few batsmen would leave the crease, after being bowled by Clarke, looking thunderstruck.

In his first Test, against Australia at Georgetown, Guyana, in March 1978, when he was one of six new caps after the Test players contracted to Kerry Packer's World Series had withdrawn, he had match figures of 6-141 and would have plaued further in the series but for injury. He toured India, Pakistan and Australia, taking 14 wickets at an average of 17.28 in Pakistan.

It was in Multan that he had the first of several clashes with authority. He had been fielding on the boundary where, after being pelted with fruit and other missiles, he picked up a brick that was marking the boundary and hurled it into the crowd. It hit a student leader, who had to be removed to hospital seriously injured.

He served a short suspension and then put himself beyond the pale in 1983 by joining a rebel tour of South Africa, a country then under a ban by the International Cricket Council because of its apartheid regime. Clarke was a great success in South Africa, signing for Transvaal and taking 58 wickets at an average of 13.0 in the 1984-85 Currie Cup competition. He also played for Northern Transvaal and Orange Free State. Sadly his Surrey career ended in 1989 when, after a Benson and Hedges match, he was sacked for "persistent breaches of the terms and conditions of his contract".

In his Test career he took 42 wickets at an average of 27.85. In 1981 his 100 not out for Surrey against Glamorgan was recorded as the fastest of the season, 62 minutes. In his first-class career he took 758 wickets (20.12) and scored 2,694 runs (15.39).

He was a carpenter by trade and was still playing club cricket up to his death.

Derek Hodgson

Sylvester Theophilus Clarke, cricketer: born Lead Vale, Barbados 11 December 1954; married; died Bridgetown, Barbados 4 December 1999.