Like Wayne Daniel [a street-bruiser on the Nigel Benn scale], Sylvester Clarke was born in the wrong era. He played only 11 Tests, but down at the Oval, where he spent nine seasons, he was a brooding and saturnine presence [to batsmen at least], a cold-eyed killer who took 591 wickets at 18.99 and who, more than that, chilled the blood of anyone who faced him, and half of those who watched him, too.
Reminiscing on TMS, Alec Stewart said that Clarke was physically incapable of bowling slowly, whether he came in off his full run or off two paces, if he was wearing squash shoes, as he once did when taking five wickets in four overs, or his giant boots. 'He couldn't bowl medium pace,' Stewie said. 'He could only bowl slowly if he bowled leg spin'. Stewart was 16 years old when he first encountered Clarke in the nets at Roehampton. When Sylvester found out he was just a schoolboy, he would shout 'bouncer' as he was about to deliver one just so that Stewie had a chance of getting out of the way.
That courtesy didn't extend to the middle. He had shoulders like railway sleepers, and his power seemed to come from nowhere, certainly not from that ungainly run. Yet to see him bowl in the flesh was to feel awe and no little terror at the capacity of the human body.
He died at home in Barbados just a few weeks after Marshall, and a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. Sonny Liston once said, 'someday they'll write a blues song for a fighter. It'll just be for slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell'. That fits Sylvester, too. He would have been Sonny, a man out of time.