Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Next Root' Knows He Needs to Kick on; Joe Clarke Says He Must Show the England Selectors That He Is a Batsman of Substance

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Next Root' Knows He Needs to Kick on; Joe Clarke Says He Must Show the England Selectors That He Is a Batsman of Substance

Article excerpt

Byline: Will Macpherson Cricket Correspondent

JOE CLARKE turns 22 this month and made his debut for Worcestershire almost three years ago. With each of his county summers being followed by a Lions tour, he has long been considered a "when" cricketer, not an "if" cricketer when it comes to playing for England, and for almost as long he has been compared to Joe Root by coaches, commentators and colleagues.

Kevin Sharp is one of those who does so and is well placed to comment. As a coach at Yorkshire, Sharp has known Root since he was 12 and thought the England captain would open the batting for the county the day he met him. Now, he is Clarke's county coach.

The comparisons are easy to understand. Clarke, like Root, is an elegant right-handed No4 with soft hands, rubbery wrists and fast feet. Root was once a "when" cricketer, too, and they already share an agent, Neil Fairbrother. Clarke also has the bright-eyed twinkle and joie de vivre that characterised the pre-captaincy career of Root; put another way, Clarke is the sort of broad-grinned cheeky-chappy an Australian opponent might take a swing at in a bar. There's a compliment in there somewhere.

Clarke has long been aware of these comparisons and accepts they have their pros and cons. He acknowledges that being likened to Root has inhibited him at times. "When you are compared to people like him so young, I looked up to him a lot as a player and that put loads of pressure on me," he says.

Yet it is flattering to be compared to a hero. When the Lions joined England for training at The Gabba just before November's first Ashes Test, there was an arresting sight as Root practised in the far net. Clarke was sitting nearby, hands on knees, soaking up the captain's work.

"I always want to watch the best players and I see my game as being more similar to Root's than others," he says. "Watching all of them train, you've played against them, but picking up on how they train is massive. He trains seriously hard, he's always in the nets. I wanted a feel of the movements decisions that make him such a good player. Maybe that can rub off, maybe I can pick something up."

Clarke knew little of cricket until he was 11. He grew up in Shropshire on a farm and each day popped over the border to Llanfyllin High School, where he learned Welsh until GCSE. "It's served me well because I can chat to the umpire Jeff Evans in Welsh!" he jokes. "I got a B or something, so I know the main words."

He is the third of four brothers and the youngest, Xavier, is in Worcestershire's academy. The older pair, one of whom, Robbie, plays for Shropshire, "just threw balls at me all the time and I got the bug". It has broadly been a seamless rise since. Following relegation, Clarke had a bumper 2016, with six centuries.

Worcestershire were promoted in 2017 and Clarke was calmer, averaging 44, but his white-ball cricket leaped forward with his first T20 century. …

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