Rikki Clarke: Derbyshire County Cricket Club captain
PUBLISHED: 13:16 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:27 20 February 2013
Pat Ashworth interviews the Captain of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
Rikki Clarke's childhood dream was to be the next Ian Botham and play for England. It was a towering ambition that the 26-year old Essex boy and Derbyshire captain has already fulfilled, at least in the half of the dream that is achievable.
He is towering in every sense, standing as he does at six foot four: a height he concedes as sometimes an advantage when he's bowling but less so when he's batting. For the record, he is an aggressive right-arm, fast-medium bowler and a right-hand bat. He has made two Test appearances for England against Bangladesh and played 20 one day internationals (ODI) for the national side.
At the age of seven, he watched his father play club cricket in the Surrey league, picked up a bat and ball himself and never looked back. He played his first men's cricket game at the age of nine and was a player for Surrey's youth side until signing on as staff at the age of 19. He is 'loving every minute' of captaining Derbyshire, where he took up a two-year contract in January.
'It's a fresh start and a new challenge and I'm thoroughly enjoying my cricket again,' he says with evident satisfaction. 'This is such a friendly county, and my partner [Harriett] and I have been made to feel at home straightaway.' His relaxing 10-minute journey to the ground replaces a daily crossing of London that could take up to an hour and 45 minutes on a bad day. No wonder he's content.
Famously, he took a wicket with his first ball on his one-day international debut for England in 2003. He says with exultation of that moment, 'There's nothing better than putting on an England shirt and knowing you've worked hard to get it. Going out and playing an international side to a packed house is just wonderful.' Having had a second ball duck in his batting debut, the first-ball bowling success was a 'massive turnaround. It's just one of the things that will stick in my mind for many years.'
He acknowledges as 'a bit of a lean patch' the year that followed his most recent appearance for England, in 2006. The pressure of trying too hard to get back into the team put him under self-imposed strain. 'I thought I'd go away and show the selectors they'd made a mistake. I looked at all my processes and what had got me picked for England, and the thing was patience,' he says honestly.
'Cricket is my life but sometimes it took over a bit too much. I want to get a few more caps for England but now I look at it as a game: take it, relax, remember why you started to play. It was because you loved the game. So enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you will in the end get the success.' Ready to play and perform the minute he enters the ground, he has learned also to leave it behind the moment he is in his car and switching on the music. Despite an impressive four-day record from Surrey, which is continuing in Derbyshire, his reputation as an aggressive attacking player in the one-day internationals led him to being branded a one-day player, an image he says is 'definitely something I want to get away from. Everyone can look at Rikki Clarke as the complete package, who can play both forms of the game.'
All sportsmen thrive on pressure, he believes, reflecting, 'Some handle it better than others, but generally people like it because if you're under pressure, it means you're testing yourself against the best and to be the best. So if you've got aspirations to do well in your speciality field, that's how you've got to look at it. If you don't have any pressure it means you're not doing the right thing.'
He numbers among his cricketing heroes both Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, whom he describes as 'a good friend as well, almost like an older brother. If I have half the career he's had, I'll be over the moon. He would be the major cricketing hero I would aspire to be.' A soccer-loving Tottenham fan, he is also a huge admirer of David Beckham - 'He's a massive hero of mine, simply for what he has to go through, the press he has had, and the way he bounces back and takes it all with a pinch of salt.'
He ascribes to his parents the fact that his own feet are firmly on the ground and that he's not likely to get above himself. 'If you interviewed my mum or dad, or any of my family, they'd turn round and say they didn't have to do anything because of the sort of person I am,' he says with disarming frankness.
'I'm thankful for what I've got and what's happened to me. I've worked hard, got back in but I wasn't the sort of person - and never will be - who says, look at me, I own this, I have this house... I'm very thankful that God gave me a talent and I worked hard on it and fulfilled my dreams and that's how I look at it now.'
He describes himself as a very relaxed captain. Ask him how he motivates his team and he reflects, 'My personal opinion is that a team shouldn't really need motivating, because playing the game is more than enough motivation. If you're not motivated into getting in there and beating the opposition, then you're pretty much in the wrong job.
'What I do when things are tough and people are having a bit of a lean patch, is just try to relax the whole dressing-room. The game is hard, it's tough, you do get bad decisions, you do get bad balls, you do get bad days. For me, it's just to say: you wouldn't be here if you were a bad player; you're still a good player, so forget the worries and go out an enjoy it. I'm not here to scream and shout.
'On the day, we might be beaten by a better team, but if we've gone out and given 100 per cent, you know we'll come out on top. That's how we look on it as a side and as a club.' It is obviously working: after Derbyshire's disastrous 2007 season, by the beginning of June, the side had lost only three games in all competitions.
Big changes are ahead for Rikki personally: the couple's first baby was due at beginning of July. 'Being the captain has helped me mature but I'm going to be a dad in four weeks and that's going to help me mature even more,' he says. 'It'll help my cricket and help me as a person. At 26, I'm taking extra responsibility, not just for myself but for my team-mates as a captain, and for my child and my partner.'
He and Harriett met in Guildford several years ago, through Harriett's brother. 'She's brilliant,' he says warmly. 'She wasn't a cricket fan but she's got into it now and comes down to watch every time she gets an opportunity. She's getting to know the rules and what happens and when things are good and when things are bad ... though I think she's getting a bit more superstitious than I am. She can't clap when I'm batting because the first time she clapped, I got out!'
They've never been happier, he concludes. 'I think it's all going pretty well.'