It’s not just the grey beard that Rikki Clarke has been sporting which underlines his niche in Surrey’s history.
The all-rounder is the link between the trophy-packed team led by Adam Hollioake who dominated English cricket at the turn of the 21st century and the County Championship winners of 2018.
While injuries restricted him to three of last summer’s Bob Willis Trophy games, Clarke showed he is still highly effective by wrecking Kent at The Kia Oval with a spell of 5-20 from 14 overs, even though it could not pull round a match which was finally lost by 17 runs.
A recent procedure to treat a bulging disc saw him back on the field in time for the friendly against Sussex at The Kia Oval and, although now in his 40th year, he retains the same youthful enthusiasm with which he launched his Surrey career when he arrived on the playing staff in 2000.
It’s almost as if Rodney Trotter has metamorphosed into Uncle Albert.
Some of his current colleagues had not even been born when he scored a century on his first-class debut, against Cambridge UCCE in 2002, which with indecent haste led towards an international career which incorporated two Tests and 20 one-day internationals came between 2003-2006.
Unarguably, Clarke became a more complete player later on – making an important contribution to Warwickshire’s County Championship success in 2011, the highlight of a lengthy spell at Edgbaston – as he showed on returning to his native county after a decade away in 2017. A career total of 11,195 runs at 32 and 518 wickets at 30 in the first-class game underline his longevity and quality.
Few seek a return to normality more keenly given it is his testimonial year and he has also launched the Rikki Clarke Cricket Coaching Academy as a nod to the future.
“The Academy is my way of giving something back to the game which has done so much for me,” says Clarke. “When I was nine, I was presented with a bat by Alec Stewart for my achievements in age group cricket and that inspired me.
“There are only 18 counties and that leaves players who need guidance. It’s something I enjoy.”
Three years after Clarke first joined Surrey, T20 cricket arrived – Surrey winning the maiden tournament – and he accepts it has changed cricket radically: “Cricket is treading a difficult path. Young players are coming along with incredible skills but I think they are still ambitious to play Test cricket for their country.
“But the riches come from the short forms of the game, which means players can do less for more reward. We have to be very careful there.
“The long game is the one I fell in love with.”
In the meantime, he is well aware of his role as senior pro in the Surrey dressing room: “It’s my job to lead the way and show the way on and off the pitch. I feel ready for another season and the body is in pretty good shape.”
Organising a testimonial in a year in which social, sporting and commercial activity has been largely wiped out by a national lockdown presents an almost unique challenge but Clarke has been dealing with it philosophically.
“It’s been easy really – we’ve not been able to do anything! It means the events we’re organising will be condensed rather than through the year and once we start we’re just hoping we don’t get stopped again.”
Clarke is due to launch his testimonial with a dinner on June 24, which will be the first event staged in the new One Oval Square development at the Kia Oval. Information on that and the rest of his programme is available via clarkey2021.co.uk.