Surrey all-rounder Rikki Clarke is all set for a 2021 in three acts – reflecting on the past, focused on the present and preparing for the future.
The 39-year-old is still a key figure in Surrey’s squad for all three formats of the county game having clocked up the overs and scored a raft of vital lower order runs since his return for a second spell in South London in 2017.
However, with so much on the cards in a personal capacity for 2021 it’s unlikely he will be bored when he’s not in the middle.
Back in July 2020, Clarke was awarded a testimonial year for 2021 while around the same time he launched the Rikki Clarke Cricket Coaching Academy for the game’s next generation of players.
All this, happening with the backdrop of Covid-19. With the start of the LV= County Championship still the best part of four months away, Clarke says all possible preparations are being made at Surrey.
“We’ve had Zoom chats about all the protocols that are going to be in place when we’re in the ground again,” he said last week.
“It’s so important we do everything right because we want cricket to keep going and we can only do that by keeping ourselves and our families safe.
“If we’re doing the right things then we can keep moving forward and hopefully we’ll see crowds back in and put this all behind us.”
Clarke is a rare player. One of those that is never out of the game. If he’s not running in as Surrey’s opening or first change bowler, he’s a coiled spring in the slip cordon.
Then comes the powerful hitting with bat in hand that can turn the tide of an innings just as an opponent starts to think they’ve got a handle on the task at hand.
As a 39-year-old heading in to his 21st season as a professional, looking after his body is crucial.
Ordinarily, the entire squad would now be in the gym at The Kia Oval under the watchful guise of Strength & Conditioning Coach Darren Veness.
The current lockdown in the UK changes things. The coaching staff are still in regular contact with the players and The Kia Oval remains available but working patterns are altered while restrictions are in place.
“After each season I tend to slip back in to normal life, being more relaxed about my intake and output so that my body can recover from all the aches & strains a season puts on it,” said Clarke.
“That’s also important mentally for me, just to get away from cricket for a while.
“I’m back on the plan I have for myself and my body at this time of the year, with a view to being ready to go at the start of the season.
“I’d normally be hitting the gym hard at the moment but with lockdown, we’re having to adapt. That’s going to make it harder but I’m investing in weights at home too. We’ll have plenty of contact with our coaches in the next few months so that fitness and skills wise, we’re confident going in to the start of the County Championship.”
2020 saw an intense period of around nine weeks as a five-match first-class season and a full Vitality Blast campaign were completed between 1st August & 4th October.
In a test event at The Kia Oval held after a friendly in July had also welcomed crowds, Surrey Members were the only people in the country to watch competitive professional cricket in 2020 when Surrey defeated Hampshire early in September.
While playing without crowds was not ideal for anyone, it didn’t re-emphasise to the players just how influential that famous Kia Oval support can be.
“The pilot events we had last year were amazing for the players. Even though it was only small numbers, the ripples of applause really lifted everyone in the squad.
“Playing in front of a crowd is what it’s all about and hopefully we can get back to that as soon as possible, with lots of Members & families getting to see some cricket.”
Just two days before the start of that truncated season, it was announced that Clarke would receive a testimonial for 2021.
Testimonials are awarded to long serving players in order to raise funds for charities and set themselves up for future endeavours. A true reflection of the player’s impact on the Club and the game as a whole.
“When I was told I would have a testimonial this year, it was a massive honour for me. I love this Club so to have this opportunity to raise money for the Professional Cricketer’s Trust & Cure Leukaemia is so exciting,” said Clarke.
“I’ve got an incredible committee planning events and merchandise so hopefully Surrey fans out there can get behind it when it they’re announced.”
You can find out more about Rikki Clarke’s testimonial year here.
So, to the future. Clarke’s career is already an amazing feat of endurance and he has no plans to hang up the boots yet but like all things, it must end eventually.
That’s where the Rikki Clarke Cricket Coaching Academy comes in. After striking a deal with Gray-Nicolls for a range of training wear and merchandise and hiring 16 coaches, Clarke is already putting back in to the game that has given him a career.
He said: “It’s unlikely that I’ll be running in from the Pavilion End at 65! This game has been my life since I was a kid and I love it. Now I want to give something back.
“My coaching academy has had a lot of interest already, with a half-term camp & Jade Dernbach Masterclass selling well before Christmas. Unfortunately the current restrictions have affected that but we’re making plans and will be ready to go as soon as it is safe to do so.
“I know my kids want to be outside playing so I’m sure there will be lots of kids out there keen to get active as soon as possible. It’s important for cricket as a whole that kids have the chance to get hold of a bat and ball and get outside once it’s safe.”