Nottinghamshire 191 MCC 7-1: Clarke comes of age to lead assault on champions

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The Independent Online

Rikki Clarke has promised much since his first-class debut in 2002, but to date he has delivered far less than his obvious talent suggests he is capable of.

In the two Tests he played a couple of winters ago he did not do enough with bat or ball. A lack of self-discipline - coupled, at times, with a testosterone-fuelled approach to the job - has left senior figures in the game frustrated at the waste of talent and time.

But Clarke appears to have emerged from a successful winter with the England A team a changed man. As far as Surrey are concerned he has matured enough to have been given the responsibility of vice-captain of the Brown Caps.

Yesterday, once this match between the MCC and the champion county finally got under way, Clarke bowled with discipline and control to help to put the invitation side well on top.

Clarke looked sharp, generating pace and bounce off a chilly, typical springtime surface. He also proved difficult to score off, frequently beating the bat and piling up the maiden overs. He was rewarded for his labours with the wicket of Darren Bicknell, the former Surrey stalwart and a fellow club member at Guildford. Bicknell was one of Clarke's boyhood heroes - the other being Darren's younger brother, Martin.

Midway through the final session Clarke struck again to have Mark Ealham caught at square leg, as well as weighing in with a slip catch late on. Before Clarke or the reigning champions had been able to get out to the middle, they had to sit out a morning of rain, which nibbled into the afternoon and cost the match 37 overs.

The acting captain Jason Gallian, having won the toss, did not last too long. He fell to Mark Footitt, a pacy left-arm bowler, who also happens to have a full-time job with Nottinghamshire. He certainly gave his county colleagues and the watching England selector Geoff Miller plenty to think about, frequently hurrying the batsmen into their shots.

Another to make a good impression was Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan, who muscled in from the Nursery End, and hustled out his share of batsmen.

To that mix can be added Essex's Ravinder Bopara, who, until yesterday afternoon, had looked far more useful with bat than ball. He found a line and length that flummoxed the batsmen, bowling a width that promised wickets with almost every ball. The reality was that he picked up just one, that of David Hussey.

The MCC captain John Stephenson ensured youth did not have it all their own way when he claimed the last three wickets as the champions' innings stumbled to an unhappy dénouement but at least Nottinghamshire had the satisfaction of picking up England opener Alastair Cook's wicket before the close.

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