Just mention Sylvester Clarke to a certain generation of English batsmen and it prompts a range of reactions which range from a cold sweat to full undercarriage failure.
The Barbadian fast bowler’s arrival at The Oval in the spring of 1979 – following the briefest of trials the previous autumn – opened a decade of terror which prompted high sales of helmets and protective gear. Clarke’s ability to generate pace and vicious lift marked him out as the most awkward of opponents and he was the ideal man to take advantage of groundsman Harry Brind’s programme of relaying pitches.
Surfaces which had been slow and amiable now became among the quickest in the world and the newcomer’s influence was a major driver in Surrey rocketing from the base of the County Championship to being consistently among the challengers. A total of 591 first-class wickets at 18 apiece over a decade for his adopted county, before a series of injuries finally caught up with him, are the bare figures which only hint at his influence.
It’s all passing into ancient history now but a visitor to the Kia Oval this week keen to hear the tales of Clarke’s days in Kennington was his son Shakeem, who was only four when his father died, at the tragically young age of 44, in December 1999. He spent several hours watching the Surrey v Essex County Championship match and met Surrey’s director of cricket, Alec Stewart, a team-mate of his father’s.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s a quick bowler too, having just completed the English season playing for Billingshurst in Sussex League Division Two, where he claimed 28 wickets at 14 apiece, although it was not enough to save them from relegation.
“It’s great to be able to visit the ground, see where my dad played and meet Alec” said Shakeem, 26, who played three first-class matches for Barbados in 2017 and enjoyed spells playing for several English and South African clubs.
Watching match from the Galadari Stand, Shakeem was contemplating his return home on Wednesday, where after a brief quarantine he can look forward to some faster pitches after battling with the slow English surfaces of a soggy summer.
He hopes to be back next year if the right opportunity presents itself.