Joe Clarke is a special young player. He’s Worcestershire’s brightest prospect since Steven Davies, according to the club’s coach Steve Rhodes; he’s a future England player, according to Michael Vaughan; and he’s the youngest batsman to be called up to an England Lions squad since Joe Root – a player he (Clarke) is quite keen on…
So, you and Joe Root, then. You’ve been compared to England’s best all-round batsman. He’s someone you look up to, it seems?
Massively. Moeen [Ali] has had to cop a lot of me asking him about Root when he’s come back from England. I wanted to know everything about him! I met him out in Dubai – the Lions trained with the full side a couple of times – and I shook his hand and I was just staring at him and I think he probably thought I was a bit weird. Even sometimes in the nets I’ve tried to do his triggers and his backlift and stuff, but very quickly I’ve been told to be myself and not try and be Joe Root! I love watching him bat and it’s an honour to be likened to him in any way. It’s good to hear but I’m not too sure about it!
More generally, how are you enjoying the season?
It’s been good. It’s my first full season in the first team and as someone who’s got quite a bit of responsibility. Obviously with Tom [Fell] having gone down with illness I was pushed up to No.3. We probably haven’t had the results that we would have liked all the way through. From a personal point of view I’d describe my start to the season as average. I set myself quite high standards.
What did you think when Steve Rhodes asked you to move up to No.3?
It didn’t really bother me too much. I just felt more responsibility. No.3 is quite a crucial role and Tom did it so well last year in Divison One. I didn’t really see it as a long-term thing, just as a short-term measure until Tom came back. It’s something that you’ve got to try and do, test yourself at No.3 against the new ball. Whether I stay there for a bit longer or not, it’s something that I’m pleased I’ve done.
Do you think No.4’s your long-term home?
It’s hard because I keep wicket as well. At the moment it’s one of those things where I’m in the side as a batsman, and I’m enjoying myself batting at No.4, but that’s in the short term. In the long term I would probably say more No.5 or No.6, with keeping wicket as well.
You’re not keeping at the moment, but it’s not something you’re keen to move away from?
No, definitely not. My way into the first team at Worcestershire was as a batsman but keeping is not something I will lose. It’s a really good thing to have. You wouldn’t say Jonny Bairstow was the best wicketkeeper in county cricket but he’s got himself into the [England] side by being a good batsman and he’s turned himself into a very good keeper. In that respect there is opportunity for lads who get themselves in as batters and who are able to keep wicket. That can get them in sides ahead of other guys who keep wicket but maybe don’t bat quite as well.
Was it a scary feeling to make your debut as a 19-year-old last season? I imagine it must be hard entering a changing room of experienced professionals.
I didn’t feel scared or intimidated by any of the lads in the changing room. We’re a close-knit group, there aren’t any big egos, like there might be at other counties. It was a bit scary actually being on the pitch initially. You’ve always got that fear of whether you’re actually good enough to play at that standard and it takes you a couple of games to really find your feet before you realise that you can compete with these boys.
And you took to it well, scoring a century in your second game. That must have made you feel at home?
Yeah, it did. It’s gone quite quickly. From being 16 to now, it’s all happened pretty fast. One moment you’re playing under 19s, then you’re getting a contract, then you’re playing second XI cricket and now I’m where I am. The jump up, in that respect, was pretty quick. The challenge of playing Division One, as I learned last season, was big. I always felt like I was being challenged, and you’d rock up at Test match grounds, and you’d be playing against overseas and international county cricketers who’ve been playing for ages. It became more about excitement than nerves. I remember facing Ben Hilfenhaus and thinking that was pretty exciting, and I was playing against a lot of lads that I’ve grown up watching.
At the end of the season you got called up to the England Lions. Was that a surprise?
Yeah, it was. It’s just one of those things that you can’t believe you’re going to be involved in. When all the paperwork came through, and I saw the names of all the other lads I was going to be playing with and training with, these are guys who have played for England! I was in a bit of a daze really.
Was it helpful to spend time with the other England Lions players?
Massively. I got on well with quite a lot of the lads – and it’s great to see Vincey [James Vince] in the Test side. The one who stood out was Tom Curran. We played a one-day game against each other before the tour and we were going at each other. I was saying to all the Worcester boys, ‘That Tom Curran, I don’t like him, I don’t like him!’ and then we ended up rooming together on both trips! We still speak quite regularly and we’ve grown quite close, so we don’t hate each other anymore!
And, obviously, there’s England. It must be hard to not think about it…
Yeah, I think any cricketer, surely, would have their moments when they think about playing for England. It’s dreaming, you know. I know it’s a long way away and it’s something that I can only achieve with hard work, consistency and scores. That’s something that I’m going to try and do and I’ll work as hard as I can to get there.