Friday, January 7, 2011

Don Clarke as a cricketer

Rugby player Jeff Wilson is a well known recent example of the double international in New Zealand cricket. Some others were Eric Tindill, Martin Donnelly, Curly Page, Charlie Oliver and Brian McKechnie. Wilson, an All Black winger, after hanging up his rugby boots, returned to cricket and was a surprise selection in the 2005 one-day and 20/20 series against Australia. He had previously made a promising start to his international cricket career at age 19 in 1993 (scoring 44 not out off 28 balls against Australia) before opting for rugby.
In 2005, Wilson was again effective in the warm up tsunami relief series against a touring World XI (taking 3-6 in one match) but against the full strength Australian side at Eden Park he was carted for 43 runs off 4 overs in the only Twenty20 match. His last ODI game saw him take 1-68 off 9 overs. His lone wicket was that of Adam Gilchrist.
Another of those who played cricket and rugby is All Black fullback and rugby legend Don Clarke (1933-2002) known as “The Boot” for his goal kicking. Clarke never played international cricket in contrast to the others mentioned above.
When I was reading Richard Boock’s recent Sutcliffe biography, it reminded me again of Clarke’s cricket playing days. There’s a description of Clarke in the book by Graham Dowling: ‘[Clarke] was medium-fast; big and strong. He lumbered in and gave it plenty. His size gave the impression of lumbering, I suppose, but he was a pretty good provincial bowler.’ His First Class span was 1950/51-1962/63. Clarke bowled for Auckland and Northern Districts as a right arm medium-fast bowler. He took 117 wickets at a very good average of 21.14, including four five-fors and wicket haul.
At the end of his playing days, he left New Zealand in the 1970s for South Africa where he set up a tree-felling business. He died from cancer in 2002 at the age of 69.
Recently I came across a poem for Don Clarke. I’ll include it on the “Tingling Catch” archive. The epigram doesn’t specify rugby or cricket but is a nice tribute to the effect his status had on his fellow contemporaries, this time a poet:


Epitaph for Don Clarke

Mourn for a generation, ours
Its passing and its loss of powers.

Poem © F W N Wright

F W N (Nielsen) Wright or Niel Wright was born in 1933, the same year as Clarke, and wrote the epitaph after Don’s death in 2003. It appeared in his epic poem The Alexandrians. The author’s note at the end of the book states: ‘Don Clarke is my age. He was greatly distressed to find himself dying of cancer, having felt invincible. His heyday as a footballer was 1953-1964, dates that are highly significant I suspect for all his generational coevals (what statisticians so oddly call cohorts), certainly for me. My generation felt loss of powers in being pushed aside by the baby boom generation in the late 1960s and also now by death.’ It’s interesting that in New Zealand our sportsmen are seen as figureheads of their generations, defining people of a period in our culture and history. They represent the past as significant emblems, and their glittering playing careers can mirror the height of their generation's powers, an idea that recurs in some of the cricket poetry in A Tingling Catch when players are discussed and paid a tribute.

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

Sources: The Last Everyday Hero: The Bert Sutcliffe Story by Richard Boock (Longacre, 2010); Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 2003; ESPN Cricinfo; and The Alexandrians: Day 198 by F W Nielsen Wright (Original Books, 2003).

No comments:

Post a Comment