Clarke's hint for future

Leicestershire 166 and 348-2 Surrey 501
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The strength in depth of Surrey can be highlighted many ways, the non-selection of Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe earlier in the season for instance, but equally noteworthy is the frequent omission of Rikki Clarke.

He is one of the country's most talented young cricketers, was picked for last September's ICC Champions Trophy after one season of county cricket and was a feature of the recent one-day international series.

Maybe his fast-tracking is due to his being an all-rounder, and potentially a very good one. Such creatures are rarer than honest politicians and tend to garner plaudits and column inches because of their scarcity. This however is only Clarke's sixth Championship match of the summer, and what an impact he has had on it with both bat and ball.

His strokeplay has impressed many judges - the straightness of his bat in attack and defence can do nothing but - and his 139 here, his second century of the season, was as powerful and elegant as anything a top-order batter could provide. However, it was his career best first-innings figures of 4 for 21 which suggested he might be a genuine all-rounder rather than a batter who trundles down a few seamers. Lanky, gangly even when he runs to the crease, he remains tall through the moment of delivery and when Leicestershire followed-on, he had Darren Maddy caught behind.

The Leicestershire opener probably did not need to play the ball as it was a little wide of off-stump, but it did bounce and seam away which is a fine shape to develop. It was a rare success for Surrey though as Brad Hodge and John Maunders scored contrasting centuries. Maunders' was his first, a very fine one and is still a work in progress while Hodge's, all bristling power, was his third in the Championship this season.

Such was his aggression and the attacking fields set by the Surrey captain, Adam Hollioake that his 100 came off only 87 balls but Surrey were less concerned with runs than wickets. A breakthrough was all that mattered to them and their title aspirations and when it came, admittedly when the partnership was worth 281 and the deficit was almost erased, it gave them a chance to attack a weak and inexperienced middle order.

Ian Salisbury, a man of perspiration rather than inspiration, which is unusual for a wrist-spinner, was the bowler and throughout he had looked far more likely to get a wicket than his more illustrious spin partner, Saqlain Mushtaq.

Without success in the first innings, the Pakistani off-spinner looked anything but world-class, although that may be due to his wearing a cap the wrong way round while bowling. Sussex will hope he is as ineffective today as a draw would leave them top of the table and any advantage, however slight, at this late stage of the season is to be grabbed.

Interestingly both Sussex and Surrey must visit the other main contenders, Lancashire at Old Trafford and Surrey also play in-form Kent.

Australians, the benchmark on these matters, frequently state that the best players are made from playing in high-pressure matches. These fixtures should be exactly that.

Comments