The independent voice of cricket

Club Cricket

The Wisden Club Cricket Hall of Fame: Grahame Clarke

Grahame Clarke
Scott Oliver by Scott Oliver
@reverse_sweeper 3 minute read

For Wisden Cricket Monthly‘s series celebrating giants of the club game, Scott Oliver met Grahame Clarke, a record-breaking Lancastrian who didn’t like to mess about.

Published in issue 33 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

When a 19-year-old Jacques Kallis played as pro for Northern League (NL) side Netherfield in 1995, he churned out 791 immaculate runs at 98.9 before being whisked off to a South Africa A tour. Good as he was, though, Kallis was outscored three centuries to one by teammate Grahame Clarke, a fiery and pugnacious opening batsman who blasted 104, 159* and 163* en route to 937 league runs at 52, breaking the club record of 870 he had set the previous year, again with three tons, including a league best 168.

In 1996, he went better still, with 1,107 league runs at 58.3 (another three hundreds), becoming only the second amateur in 45 years of NL cricket to reach the four-figure mark. There were also 605 cup runs at over 60 that summer, the third of an extraordinarily prolific peak.

What made it all the more exceptional was that the Northern League was among the very strongest in the country, having provided a national knockout finalist in each of those three seasons. And with the likes of Malcolm Marshall and Stuart MacGill in the paid ranks, the pros weren’t too shabby either.

How Lancaster, Clarke’s first club, must have rued all this after he had left them at 18 for the short trip up the M6 to Kendal. “I only went to Netherfield for one season, to get away from Lancaster, but ended up doing 25,” he says. “It was the best thing I ever did.”

He played one game in the second XI – making 91* as they chased down 108 – then scored 56 on first XI debut. He never looked back.

The maiden hundred followed in August – the first ever by a Netherfield amateur in 25 NL seasons and the first of 33 Clarke made for the club, 20 of them in the league to put him second on the all-time list. There were six tons in 1989, when the West Indian Test batsman Carlisle Best was pro, the pair sharing a league record opening stand of 242 against a strong Blackpool side.

Clarke had a brief flirtation with Lancashire in his youth, but “I fell out with Jack Bond [the manager]. I’ve always had an attitude. I had the greatest net ever at Old Trafford and one of the coaches told me I needed to steady on a bit. I lost my head, and that put the kibosh on that.”

He would make 64 Championship appearances for Cumberland (including five years “laughing at Bumble’s jokes”) and was part of the side that lifted its maiden Minor Counties championship in 1986. But batting at No.6 in two-day cricket didn’t make best use of his attributes and limited scope brought unspectacular results.

The bread and butter was always Netherfield, though, and Clarke was a key component in their transformation from also-rans to heavy-hitters, with the pain of three runners-up finishes in 1984, ’89 and ’93 salved by a maiden title in 1997, repeated in ’98, ’00 and ’01. There were also four cup successes in that five-year streak.

The only year they didn’t win the league in that spell, 1999, Clarke missed the whole season after a horrific accident at work: “A 13-ton digging machine ran over my right foot and ankle. If it had been on tarmac or concrete, it would have taken it off, but fortunately it was on grass and it sunk. It smashed my bones and snapped my ligaments and I was off work for 25 months.”

He returned for the final third of the 2000 campaign, averaging 45 in league and cup, but thereafter a man who has “been in plaster 23 times and had 11 ops on my legs” felt a sharp physical deterioration. Even so, he finished with 13,021 NL runs at 34 – fifth on the all-time list – and 20,598 at 36 overall for Netherfield, one of the club’s best-loved players and among the league’s finest-ever amateur batsmen. The core philosophy? “A half-volley’s a half-volley whether it’s first ball or 101st.”

Published in issue 33 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99