Every season we scan the country and canvas opinion to bring together some of the finest talents in the county game. Henry Cowen talks up another Worcestershire-sourced talent, in wicketkeeper-batsman Joe Clarke.
IN THREE: Next big thing
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: An England Lions call-up before turning 20 takes some beating, although Clarke’s maiden first-class and List A tons – scored in the space of four weeks at the back end of the 2015 season – were equally impressive.
FIRST-CLASS: 12 matches; 649 runs at 40.56; 2 hundreds, 4 fifties
LIST A: 9 matches; 289 runs at 48.16; strike-rate 96.97; 1 hundred, 2 fifties
T20: 2 matches; 16 runs at 16; strike-rate 123.07
There’s a good thing going on at New Road and a lot of young talent is flourishing. Word on the street is that 19-year-old Joe Clarke is the most prodigiously talented of the lot. An England Lions call-up for this winter’s tour of the UAE – the first teenage batsman to be selected since Joe Root – and two first-class tons before his 20th birthday suggest he might just live up to the hype.
Confident, chatty and ambitious, Clarke’s teenage achievement isn’t the only thing he shares with England’s vice-captain. Root’s mentor growing up was former Yorkshire batting coach Kevin Sharp, a man who now finds himself in charge of Worcestershire’s young batsmen. “Joe is a very talented young player and has got a very bright future,” said Sharp. “He has been given his opportunity in the first team, which is very exciting, and I’m sure he will go a long way in the game.”
In the past, talents like Clarke would have to think about moving on in order to get selected for the full national side, but the achievements of Moeen Ali have made it clear that you can get to the very top, even if you’re at a smaller county like Worcestershire. It’s good news for all parties that Clarke has signed a three-year contract. He’ll get an opportunity to play regular cricket (across all forms of the game, you’d expect), be an important part of a small and tight-knit changing room and – importantly – he’ll be relied upon. At a bigger county his runs, and his role, could be less significant.
Like so many young players, Clarke’s way is to be aggressive. Despite being a wicketkeeper (he kept for the England under 19s at the 2014 World Cup) Ben Cox’s status as one of the domestic game’s best glovemen means he plays as just a batsman for now. The opening game of the 2016 season – a game in which he scored 119 against Oxford MCCU – saw Clarke batting at No.3 and it will be intriguing to see how he develops his red-ball cricket. The fact he has a List A century to his name is proof already of his modern approach: he is, like so many coming through, a 360-degree player.
Clarke has already impressed enough to catch the eye of Michael Vaughan, who picked him in his Ashes XI for 2017 in the Telegraph: “I’ve seen [Clarke] a few times and think he has a sound game. Good front foot, back foot. He’s 19 now, will be 22 by the time of the next Ashes, a great time to blood a young player. A stab in the dark but he will emerge in the same way Joe Root did a few years ago.”
How England would love that.