Sylvester Clarke – West Indies Fast Bowler

Picture a quickly accelerating run-up that culminates with a contortion of limbs. Within a split second, a red leather ball is hurled at you in excess of 85 miles per hour, typically with unsettling bounce. Facing the late West Indian fast bowler Sylvester Clarke was even worse than that, according to his opponents.

Born on the island of Barbados in December of 1954, Sylvester Clarke started playing First-class cricket relatively late- at the age of 23. Standing at a decent height of 6’2″, he was a genuinely fast bowler who combined steep bounce and fearsome pace from a decidedly awkward action. Defections of key players from the West Indies Test team fast-tracked him into Test cricket in 1978.

While Clarke performed well on debut- taking six wickets against Australia- he was unfortunate to play at the time when West Indian fast bowling was at its peak. The return of first-choice West Indian fast bowlers and his decision to play in South Africa limited his Test match appearances to just 11.

Clarke’s international career-span was limited to just six years. From 11 Tests, Clarke reaped 42 wickets at a good average of 27.85. He only played ten one-day internationals though. Although his Test returns were good, Clarke is most remembered for an incident in a Test match against Pakistan at Multan in 1980.

Retaliating to being harassed and pelted by Pakistan’s supporters when he fielded near the boundary, Clarke tossed a brick- used as a boundary marker- into the crowd. His thoughtless action seriously injured a 22-year old student and is still recounted- decades later. To his credit, Clarke visited the injured student at hospital and apologised for his action.

With an abbreviated international career, Clarke really made his mark playing professionally in South Africa and England. In addition to Barbados and the West Indies, he played for Surrey, Transvaal, Northern Transvaal and Orange Free State. His nine seasons with Surrey in the English County were particularly impressive. He was one of twenty Surrey legends who were honoured by the County in 2005.

In his autobiography, Steve Waugh underscored the threat of Sylvester Clarke- having faced him in an English County game. “Pace and bounce of the kind Clarke could muster is something you can’t prepare for. It’s an assault both physically and mentally and the moment you weaken and think about what might happen, you’re either out or injured…” Waugh reckoned. Many of the 942 first-class wickets that Clarke prised out were likely the result of self-preservation.

Sylvester Clarke died in 1999 at the age of 45, mere weeks after he played a cricket match at club level. Many batsmen would recall facing Clarke at his best on the English County. Although he was tainted by his brick-throwing ability, Sylvester Clarke nevertheless made a significant contribution to cricket.

Source by Darrell Victor

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