Nottinghamshire 324 for 5 (Clarke 109*, Slater 76) v Yorkshire
Joe Clarke has wasted no time in suggesting that his move to Nottinghamshire could quicken his move to cricketing adulthood. There will have been few classier Championship debuts for the county than this, Yorkshire decidely put in their place as Clarke made an unbeaten 109 with barely a hair out of place. England are not short of No. 4s, in fact there are times when the entire team seems to be full of them, but they will be keeping a watchful eye.
Clarke joined Nottinghamshire on a four-year deal in September only a week after sharing in Worcestershire’s first Twenty20 trophy win at Edgbaston. It is just the winter that was less palatable.
His polish was all the more remarkable considering that more off-field publicity lies in wait. The retrial of his former Worcestershire team-mate Alex Hepburn on two charges of rape begins at Worcester Crown Court on Monday – the final day of this match – after a jury deliberated for nine hours in January without reaching a verdict.
Clarke, who was not on trial, was in the room at the time, and was accepted to have had consensual sex with the woman involved. But the fallout led to his omission from an England Lions tour (along with Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who is also playing in this game) as the ECB sought to guard the game’s standing. The PCA has devised workshops for county professionals to deal with the whole issue of sexual consent.
He will be desperate to move the attention back to cricket and innings like this will ensure that he will soon do just that. Twelve Championship hundreds at Worcestershire by the age of 22 had advertised his promise and he batted with great poise against a Yorkshire attack that had taken first use of a sluggish, well-behaved surface in the hope of a much better day. Most of the wickets they managed were due to batsman error.
England’s batting issues might surround the top order but do not entirely dismiss the chance of Clarke being an Ashes bolter.
“To do score a hundred on the first day, first game of the season, it has been an amazing start,” he said. “Everyone knows for me personally it’s been a tough second half of the winter. It’s made me grow as a person. I’ve learned a lot about myself. Hopefully it’s made me a better character. I’m more determined than ever to let my cricket do the taking.”
At 22, a fresh start gives him the opportunity to display a new maturity. Many have made the move to Nottinghamshire from a smaller county and, among the regular procession of batsmen who have made the journey, not all have adjusted to one of the most demanding examinations in the country. It is a bigger world: an international stadium, the presence of more international stars, the professionalism of everything around him. It is unlikely to overawe Clarke; he has too much talent for that.
James Taylor, the England selector, who was on hand to watch Clarke on the opening day, was one who did make the transition, from Leicestershire. Taylor’s own career was ended in the cruellest fashion three years ago this week. Clarke, with so much before him, now needs to play like he means it. His strokeplay has brought purrs of admiration from the outset. This was one of the days when everything came together in a grown-up innings.
At such a crucial time in his career, the everyday presence of Peter Moores, Nottinghamshire’s former England coach, will be a boon. Moores can help kick on the career not just of Clarke, but also of Ben Duckett, two years older, who has already had a taste of England life but who must restate his potential.
Duckett, who warmed up for the season with 216 against Cambridge MCCU, also began in promising fashion here, reaching 43 before he mistimed a languid pull at Steve Patterson. There were solid runs, too, for Ben Slater, another recent signing for Notts, who are never short of buying ambitions: the sort of county who would take a basket into Tesco and have to abandon it halfway round the store and shift to a barrow instead.
It was a tough day for Yorkshire. Duanne Olivier took two wickets on his Championship debut – Slater caught at the wicket, hooking, for 76 and Steven Mullaney, who edged a back-foot force to second slip.
Clarke raised his 50 with a perfectly-balanced cover drive off Olivier before late in the day securing his hundred by clipping Matthew Waite through the leg side. For Yorkshire, it was a humdrum start to the season, one in which England’s Test captain, Joe Root, delivered a mix of offspin and legspin in his 12 overs. For Clarke it was a day to lift his head and look at the horizon again.