William Clarke (cricketer)

William Clarke (cricketer)

William Clarke (born 24 December 1798 in Nottingham; died 25 August 1856 in Wandsworth, Surrey) was a famous English cricketer and team manager. As the founder and organiser of the All-England Eleven he is one of the most significant figures in the sport's history and, according to cricket historian Peter Wynne-Thomas, "in terms of cricket history [...] the most important figure to be born in Nottingham".


Clarke was one of the best bowlers in England throughout his career. He eschewed the roundarm style and persisted with the slow rightarm underarm leg-spin he had learned as a boy. It brought him 795 wickets @ 10.06 in 143 known first-class matches alone. JF Sutton wrote that "repeatedly the best batsmen have been driven to their wit's end by his deceitful twisting peculiars". His best known analysis is 9/29. He took 82 5wI and 26 10wM. He closely studied opposing batsmen for flaws and, in all matches for his famed All-England Eleven, is estimated to have taken 2,385 wickets [CricInfo] .

Clarke's known first-class career spanned almost forty years, beginning in the 1826 season and continued until August 1855, the year before he died. At fifty-six years and eight months, he remains the oldest man ever to represent the county. He was a moderate batsman, scoring first-class 2133 runs @ 10.35 with a highest score of 75. He took 55 catches.

The first great team captain

Besides his bowling, Clarke's greatest attribute was his captaincy and leadership. He was an astute tactician and perhaps the sport's first truly tactical captain who could "think out" the opposition by means of planned field positions and rotation of his bowlers. Taking the reins from Joseph Dennis, Clarke captained the old Nottingham town club from 1830 and automatically succeeded to the captaincy of Nottinghamshire CCC when it was formed out of the town club in various stages between 1835 and 1840.

The All-England Eleven

Clarke was originally a bricklayer by trade, but his earnings as a bowler and an advantageous marriage enabled him to take up the traditional cricketer's trade of publican. Clarke was importantly the owner of the Trent Bridge Inn, over which he took control in 1837, after espousing its widowed landlady. He opened the Trent Bridge cricket ground behind the inn the following springtime. It immediately became the venue of all Nottingham County matches.

A forerunner of Kerry Packer, Clarke was dissatisfied with the lack of revenue in first-class cricket, which was completely controlled by MCC, and decided to take matters into his own hands. In the 1846 season, by which time he had relocated to London (leaving Trent Bridge in the hands of his step-son John Chapman), he formed the All-England Eleven as a touring team of leading players to play matches at big city venues, mainly in the North of England. Clarke's team was indeed a top-class side worthy of its title. Its matches in Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds were a huge success and very profitable, especially for the dictatorial Clarke, who was careful to pay his players more than MCC did in order to keep them interested. He kept the surplus for himself and became very wealthy. "For a decade," wrote Peter Wynne-Thomas, "Clarke effectively ruled English professional cricket." [Wynne-Thomas: "Nottinghamshire Cricketers".]

It was often bruited that much of what Clarke garnered from his cricketing enterprises he subsequently lost to bookmakers. In the late 1820s, he lost sight in one eye, too, after being struck there by a fives ball on the court behind the Bell Inn, which was predecessor to the Trent Bridge Inn as effective headquarters of cricket in Nottingham.

Clarke's touring team continued for several years to showcase the best players of the day, diluting severely Nottingham's county matches. Because of its strength, the AEE generally played sides composed of twenty-two men, though these odds were reduced when opposed to such sides as Sheffield, Manchester, some county teams and the rival United All-England Eleven.


Clarke is believed to be the only player ever to take a first-class hat-trick including the same batsman (John Fagge) twice. [http://content-uk.cricinfo.com/columns/content/story/265946.html]

A stand at Trent Bridge, an English international venue and Nottinghamshire's home ground, is named after William Clarke.

External sources

* [http://www.cricketarchive.co.uk/Archive/Players/28/28566/28566.html CricketArchive]
* [http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/ci/content/player/11160.html Bio and stats at Cricinfo]


Further reading

*Altham, H.S., "A History of Cricket, Volume 1 (to 1914)", George Allen & Unwin, 1926
*Birley, Derek, "A Social History of English Cricket", Aurum, 1999
*Bowen, Roland, "Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development", Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970
*Haygarth, Arthur, "Scores & Biographies, Volume 2 (1827-1840)", Lillywhite, 1862
*Haygarth, Arthur, "Scores & Biographies, Volumes 3-9 (1841-1866)", Lillywhite, 1862-1867
*Major, John, "More Than A Game", HarperCollins, 2007
*Sutton, John Frost: "The Date-Book of Remarkable and Memorable Events Connected with Nottingham and its Neighbourhood: 1750-1850" (Simpkin & Marshall, 1852).
*Wynne-Thomas, Peter: "Nottinghamshire Cricketers: Part One: By Way of Introduction" (Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, 9 October 2007 ).

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