Monday 18 May 2009

Soft trumpet and a bell

If the great West Indian fast bowlers were boxers, Malcolm Marshall would have been Ray Robinson, a talent beyond compare. Michael Holding was Ray Leonard, balletic and pure; Andy Roberts Marvin Hagler, immutable and ruthless. Joel Garner was as gangly and as lethal as Tommy Hearns, Colin Croft as vicious as a prime-time Mike Tyson. Patrick Patterson was George Foreman, relying on his muscle, Ian Bishop, pre-injury, was deadly, a young Duran.

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. 


Homer said...

You Sir, are brilliant!

adverbin said...

Wonderful write up.

Rob said...

Thank you for this, a real piece of prose. I thought your boxing comparisons were bang on the mark. Clarke as Marco Barrera perhaps (or Holmes if it has to be from the 80s)?

I remember watching him on TV playing against Somerset and bowling to Richards. Hedonism.

He would walk into any Test team today of course.

The Old Batsman said...

thank you. It's amazing how things go in eras or clusters, isn't it. Imagine lionel Baker getting anywhere near the team that sylvester struggled to get into.

Ceci said...

Magic stuff OB - know absolutely nothing about boxing but really enjoyed this. Loved the courtesy of Clarke shouting "bouncer" to the schoolboy Stewart and then trying to knock his block off