Clarke thrives on familiar ground

Surrey 375-9 v Middlesex
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The Independent Online

At a time when overseas and European qualified players are the norm rather than the exception, it is refreshing to see a rare breed - the local hero.

Rikki Clarke has spent the bulk of his formative cricketing years in deepest Surrey and is unashamedly a "Home boy". When not required by Surrey or England, Clarke turns out for the Guildford club. Yesterday, the 21-year-old all-rounder scored some valuable "home runs" to help haul Championship leaders Surrey from the brink of first-innings failure.

Indeed, by the close the First Division leaders were well on top after salvaging what had looked like a wreck of a first innings. Clarke's second half-century in successive matches (albeit a year apart) on his home ground laid the foundations for a serious wagging by the tail that wrested the initiative from Middlesex.

"I scored 60 or 70 here for Guildford earlier this season," said Clarke after his patient two-hour innings. "The wicket is a good one and I am looking forward to bowling on it."

The ball had swung for most of the day, although there was early movement off the pitch when Surrey struggled. Mark Ramprakash, Graham Thorpe (the only other Surrey player to pass fifty) and Alistair Brown fell to a wicked post-lunch spell from Simon Cook, who claimed the trio for just five runs in 17 balls.

Clarke, though, handled Ashley Noffke and Cook, the pick of the Middlesex attack, with aplomb. Middlesex were handicapped by the loss of Abdul Razzaq with an ankle injury after he had sent down just five overs, but the way Clarke and the rest of the lower order clobbered the ball around, making up for the loss of 12 overs to rain and the failings of their betters, they must have felt like whipped dogs by the end of an entertaining day.

Although Clarke reached his half-century off 58 balls compared with Thorpe's stately 76 balls, he took few risks in stands of 79 with Alex Tudor, and 51 with Ian Salisbury.

The leg-spinner took up the cudgels when Clarke fell, smacking 40 before making way for Saqlain Mushtaq and Jimmy Ormond - the latter lofting the last ball of the day from Paul Weekes for six to take the last-wicket partnership past the 50-mark.

It was the final indignity for Middlesex but - given the way Surrey's seasons have turned on their matches at Guildford - quite possibly the start of something great for the Brown Hats. No wonder they announced a deal with the club yesterday to carry on the popular festival for a further 10 years.

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