I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “the next Glenn McGrath that came on the scene”. Sure, I’d only have about six bucks, but it’d be $6 more than I have right now and it’d be a fair representation of how quick the cricket world is to label and compare new players as they emerge, and how wrong they can be.
The hunt to replace a star
There is absolutely no doubt that a cricketing public starved of the talent, bravado or personality of a star player will look to quickly fill the void with a player who shares a similar trait. Be it a specific action or approach at the crease, to a way of talking to the media or an assembled mass of fans, the cricketing world will look to any means to latch on to an up and comer to label a star.
One of the first to wear the ‘next McGrath’ tag was a lanky right-arm seamer from Sutherland who answered to the moniker Sarfraz. He sent down good rocks on a decent length and caused a few headaches at Sheffield Shield level.
Stuart Clark was born to parents who were both born in India. His father, Bruce was born in Chennai while his mother Mary came into the world in cricket-mad Bangalore leading Clark to be the first male cricketer of Indian heritage to play Test cricket or any form of the international game for Australia.
Early years spent bowling alongside McGrath at Sutherland in Sydney Grade cricket were highly beneficial, before Clark went on to debut with New South Wales in early February of 1998, against Tasmania at the Sydney Cricket Ground. His first season of Shield cricket, however, was not one to look back fondly on, from a figures perspective if nothing else. Clark battled to have any real impact, taking only four scalps on his way to an average of 76.75 across the end of the 1997/98 campaign.
A tough start in the Shield arena
The 1998/99 Sheffield Shield season would bear little more in the way of success for Clark, who would only manage two wickets at an average of over 220, hardly stellar stuff and quickly enough grounds for him to be dropped and not looked upon for a return for more than two years.
A return to first class level during the 2000/01 campaign saw better returns and solid form for Clark, who managed eight wickets at a tick over 25 in his three appearances, enough to see him retained for the 2001/02 Shield season and set Clark on the path to 24 Test caps, 39 ODI appearances for Australia and the fated ‘next McGrath’ tag.
Clark first graced the Australian team in 2005 when he was a shock call up to the squad for the fourth and fifth Tests of the Ashes campaign in the United Kingdom, following injuries to both Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.
Lee and McGrath would both recover in time to play in those matches, but his performances to that point, as well as his experience in England’s county system, placed him at the forefront of selector’s minds as that next tier of bowler. Capable of stepping in should a Lee, McGrath, Kasprowicz or Gillespie be unavailable for whatever reason.
Clark would not have to wait too long before getting his first chance at international level though it would be in fifty over format following the Ashes series when he was drafted in to the Australian side for the ICC Super Series clashes against the ICC World XI. Decent enough efforts there and against New Zealand later, in a Chappell-Hadlee series, earned Clark selection to the 2007 World Cup squad as a replacement for an again-injured Brett Lee.
Making a mark for the national team
While he began making his mark at ODI level, Clark would eventually earn the right to don a Baggy Green cap as he replaced Glenn McGrath for the 2006 tour of South Africa after the latter’s wife took ill. During his Test debut in Cape Town, Stuart Clark would have an immediate impact, snaring five-wickets in the first innings, including the prized scalp of South African skipper Graeme Smith as well as Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, finishing with spinner Nicky Boje on his way to a man of the match performance.
The man of the match award was snared by an additional four wickets in the second innings, with Kallis again a Clark scalp.
Naturally, given the circumstances and his methodical approach, Clark was quickly dubbed the ‘next McGrath’ and it would seem reasonably appropriate given his efforts. Another four wickets in the second Test and seven in the third catapulted Clark to the realms of a star in quick time, his 20 wickets across the series, at an average of 15.85 earning him the ‘player of the series’ gong as well.
With his South African escapades, fresh in the mind, Clark was a certainty to board the plane for Bangladesh shortly thereafter, but his fortunes waned considerably, snaring just one wicket in the first innings of the first Test and struggling for much of an impact before being replaced by recalled veteran Jason Gillespie. Given the spin-friendly surface in Chittagong, host of the second Test, Clark was ‘released from duty’ and young spinner Dan Cullen drafted into the fold. Although there was some controversy over the exact circumstances of his release, with Cricket Australia potentially suggesting it was on compassionate grounds for the birth of his son, Clark himself would later go on to note that a “rest” was unnecessary.
A home Ashes series
A poor tour of Bangladesh notwithstanding, Clark was in line for an Ashes debut on home soil in November 2006, over twelve months after first being drafted into an Ashes squad and he made hay while the sun shone, snaring seven scalps as the tourists were battered and bruised in a 277 run defeat before nabbing six more in another victory in the second Test, where he was head and shoulders above his colleagues as top performer with ball in hand.
The highlights would continue for the jovial if not reserved quick, with Clark snaring three wickets in the first innings of the fifth Test at his home ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground, before backing that up with a quick-fire 35 from 47 balls with the blade in hand during Australia’s first innings efforts with the bat.
His runs with the bat came as Australia overhauled England’s first innings dig of 10/291 with a score of 10/393 as plenty of batsmen got starts, without really piling on a big score. It was a good deck for the tailenders with Shane Warne plundering himself 71 runs in the process.
The fifth Test came and went, Australia securing a dramatic and deserved five-nil whitewash of the old enemy and bringing the urn back to where they felt it rightly belonged, but it would be a standout series for the tall quick from the Sutherland Shire, with Clark finishing the series with 26 wickets at an average of 17 and the best strike rate of all the Australian bowlers, a cast which included greats Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee as well as Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait in a stunning illustration of his effectiveness and accuracy with the ball in hand.
With Australia bidding farewell to a cavalcade of stars in the wake of the series, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and McGrath all retiring on the back of reclaiming the Ashes, Clark appeared poised to be the spearhead of a revamped and vibrant bowling attack moving forward.
Post Ashes, the world without the very best
While Glenn McGrath would play through to the 2007 ODI World Cup in the limited overs format of the game, meaning he would also be part of the ODI tri-series which played out after the Ashes triumph, the Australian cricketing public began to get their first real glimpses of the post-superstar world and it looked good to begin with.
Australia dominated the round-robin portion of the tri-series with England and New Zealand, finishing with seven wins from their eight games, but would go on to lose the best of three finals series 2-0 to England, a rare failure to capture silverware on home turf in recent years for the Aussies.
Stuart Clark did not have the impact or the economy he had become accustomed to or famed for, finishing with figures of 1/58 in the first game against England, 2/40 in the second game against New Zealand and, overall, failing to tie up an end or take wickets with any fervor or consistency.
He did manage 4/54 in the fifth match of the series against the Blackcaps however, that was the only time he would lead the charge during the series.
A three-nil whitewash at the hands of the Kiwis in New Zealand was hardly ideal preparation for the 2007 World Cup, to be held in the Caribbean, but expectations around Clark and the Australian team remained as high as ever.
2007 World Cup, another triumph
The ninth iteration of the ICC World Cup would provide Australia the chance to claim their third consecutive crown and their fourth overall, a feat which they duly managed with a win against Sri Lanka in a rain-affected final at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown.
Pre-tournament, Clark was called in as a replacement for the injured Brett Lee and did not have an opportunity to impress himself upon the tournament.
Following his minimal impact on the Australian World Cup triumph, Clark would add a further 34 Test scalps to his tally through games against Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies at an average of 26.52 though it was becoming increasingly clear selectors were searching for young options and his place in the Test squad was coming under fire.
He suffered the axe while on tour in India during 2008 as India won the four Test series 2-0 with wins in Mohali and Nagpur before returning to Australia and battling an elbow injury which cruelled his chance of playing against South Africa on home soil as the home summer of 2008/09 got underway down under.
A final Ashes campaign
As with most Aussies, Clark’s career is often looked at through the prism of Ashes series against England, and he would have a chance to add to his impressive statistics against the old enemy on the 2009 Ashes tour north, with Australian keen to defend their 2006/07 triumph and retain the Ashes urn.
Clark played no part in the first Test in Cardiff, which ended in a draw on the back of Australia’s epic first innings total of 6/674 declared, with Ricky Ponting slashing a tremendous 150 while Simon Katich and Marcus North also made centuries.
Come the second Test at Lords, Clark was again left out of the XI, with Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle preferred as the pace bowling options and Nathan Hauritz selected as the spinner. England would win the second Test by 115 runs and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
The same four bowling options were selected for the third Test at Edgbaston for the third Test, which ended in a draw leaving Australia trailing 1-0 with two Tests left to salvage their tour and retain the Ashes.
Finally, Clark would earn a reprieve and be added to the XI for the fourth Test to be held at Headingly in Leeds. Clark came in at the expense of tweaker Nathan Hauritz with selectors opting for a four-man pace attack in an effort to blast the English off the wicket and level the Test series.
After clattering England all out for just 102 in the first innings of the Test, an innings in which Clark had figures of 3/18 from 10 overs alongside a rampant Peter Siddle who took 5/21 as the match, and the series took a stunning turn.
After adding 32 runs with the bat as Australia built an imposing first innings lead, Clark went wicketless in the second English batting effort, finishing with 0/74 from just 11 overs as Ben Hilfenhaus led the Aussies to a comprehensive win by an innings and 80 runs.
His first innings efforts in the fourth Test were enough to ensure Stuart Clark would get another opportunity in the fifth and final Test of the series at The Oval in London. This would prove to be Clark’s final Test for Australia and his last international fixture in any format of the game.
The final Test
England would win the toss and captain Andrew Strauss had no hesitation in sending his side out to bat on the first morning of a Test that would decide the fate of the Ashes.
England managed 10/332 in their first innings, with Ian Bell’s 72 runs a gritty highlight while Stuart Clark went wicketless for the second straight innings.
Almost inexplicably, Australia capitulated and were bowled out for just 160 runs, with Simon Katich the only man to cross the half-century mark, dismissed by Graeme Swann for exactly 50 runs. The Ashes series had taken another violent twist from the expected, leaving the burgeoning crowds stunned as the Aussies failed to put up a tangible fight with the treasured urn on the line.
England would bat again and with a comfortable lead, they pressed their metaphorical foot down and managed another solid score, finishing 9/373 declared, Jonathan Trott top-scoring with 119 runs in a fine display of stroke-making. Clark would be the man to finally dismiss Trott, but it was scant consolation as he finished with figures of 1/43 from 12 overs as England blunted the Australian attack and pressed their case for an Ashes series win.
Australia would bat valiantly in their second dig, finishing 10/348 and suffering a highly disappointing 197-run loss to hand the urn back to the English and for Clark, after a golden duck late in the innings, to end a short but memorable career under the Baggy Green.
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