Sylvester Clarke: West Indies fast bowler

Sylvester Clarke was a nasty proposition on any wicket.
Sylvester Clarke was a nasty proposition on any wicket.

Full name: Sylvester Theophilus Clarke

Born: December 11, 1954 at Christ Church, Barbados

Died: December 4, 1999 at Christ Church, Barbados

Major teams: West Indies, Barbados, Northern Transvaal, Orange Free State, Surrey, Transvaal

Playing role: Fast bowler, lower order batsman

Sylvester Clarke’s run-up was not necessarily the most sublime; it was one where he’d accelerate quickly and enter his delivery stride with a contortion of limbs. However awkward his action appeared, it was able to deliver the ball well in excess of 85 miles per hour – and with disconcerting bounce.

Former Australia captain Steve Waugh, in his autobiography summed it up as follows: "Pace and bounce of the kind Clarke could muster is something you can't prepare for.” He added, “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..."

Clarke started playing First-class cricket for Barbados at a relatively late age for cricketers – 23. One year after making his First-class debut, he wore the maroon cap of the West Indies. His ascent was as quick as his bowling, although he owed it to the defections of key players who played World Series Cricket under Kerry Packer.

Clarke had a creditable debut, taking six wickets against Australia at Guyana. However, the Barbadian pace bowler was unlucky to play at a time when the Caribbean had a plethora of fast bowling options. When the “Packer players” returned, Clarke was a fringe player.

His decision to play in South Africa during the infamous “rebel tours” effectively curtailed his international career. As his bowling records show, the 6'2 fast bowler was more than capable with the ball in hand.

Sylvester Clarke's bowling records

Match type
Matches
Wickets
Average 
Strike rate 
Economy
Tests
11
42
27.85 
58.9 
2.83
ODIs
10
13
18.84
40.3
2.80
First-class
238
942
19.52 
46.2 
2.53
List A
250
364
18.77 
35.3 
35.3
Source: Cricinfo

Clarke has a good international record, but he excelled in First-class cricket – playing for Barbados, as well as in South Africa and England. He even demonstrated prowess with the bat – scoring one First-class hundred. However, he was best remembered for an infamous incident in a 1980 Test match against Pakistan at Multan.

Clarke retaliated to being harassed and pelted by Pakistan supporters by tossing a brick used as a boundary marker into the crowd. A 22-year old student was injured as a result. To make amends Clarke visited the student in hospital and apologized for that incident. However, he still faced a three-match ban for it.

The fast bowler’s nine seasons were certainly impressive. Many English County batsmen reckoned that Clarke was the fastest and nastiest of fast bowlers on the County circuit – notwithstanding the West Indian greats who were playing at that time as well. The Barbadian was one of 20 Surrey cricketers honoured by the County in 2005.

Sylvester Clarke died in 1999; just weeks after he played a club match in his native Barbados. Weeks earlier, he had attended the funeral of Malcolm Marshall – the former West Indies bowler who took 376 Test wickets. While Clarke’s international career was brief, he made a mark in First-class cricket and would be remembered as one who helped to establish the West Indian pace tradition.

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