Top Dog reflects on storied career

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Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

Top Dog reflects on storied career

The pitches around the region this summer missed a familiar face and the absence was noticeable after leaving such a massive impact during a storied career, which went from Mount Gambier to England and Adelaide Oval.

East Gambier evergreen Ben Clark had been an ever present for decades, plundering thousands and runs and wickets as an all-round enforcer.

However, increasing injuries meant Clark, 46, was forced to give up what he loved most before the 2021/22 season began – and he admitted it has been a struggle to watch so much action over the last few months.

“My mind was very willing, but my body was just not there, so at 46 it was probably time to give up,” he said.

“I did not want to give up, but it had to happen with my leg and back.

“I am a bad watcher and it is so frustrating because I was able to contribute in last year’s semi-final and prove that I still have it.

“But I cannot keep playing now which is frustrating.”

Every time Clark returns to a cricket ground, his competitive and playing instincts come flooding back.

Despite the clear urge to pick up a bat or ball, Clark said the camaraderie developed within a playing XI was what he missed most.

“Honestly I miss the team aspects of the game like getting around the boys, the banter at training after getting hit for six or taking a wicket,” he said.

“I even still find myself gravitating towards the nets.”

Clark’s passion for the game was sparked by regular trips to the MCG to watch Australia play against the likes of Allan Donald and Joel Garner.

Inspired by these heroes, the youngster started playing cricket and football at East Gambier and the Kennel stole his heart.

During his early days the all-rounder admitted he was not a completely gifted cricketer, but hours and hours of practice helped him move up the ranks and he once opened the bowling with future Brisbane Lions superstar Jonathan Brown in country Victoria.

After moving away to complete boarding school and university, Clark landed a teaching job in Portland, but his cricketing career was destined for even further heights.

“I was playing at Portland Colts and every year an overseas player from the MCC would come,” he said.

“Most of them were second tier county players and one of them said to me ‘you should play for my club in England because your skillset suits those conditions’.

“So I went over there as a little country boy and did not realise how big London was.

“There were people everywhere and I was lucky to find the person with the red hat calling my name.

“I stayed at the captain’s house for the next nine months and it was just a wonderful experience.”

The trip halfway across the world must have been worth it because Clark travelled to England four times in five years.

He played at a variety of clubs and said it was quite an intimidating prospect being the overseas player, but one he enjoyed.

Having built a substantial list of contacts and performances in England, Clark soon found himself playing alongside some household names.

“I got real lucky one day and was asked ‘how would you like to represent Australia in an exhibition game?’,” he said.

“As part of the 50th anniversary of Don Bradman playing at Southend, they had an Australian team including Geoff Lawson, Damien Fleming, Merv Hughes and Colin Miller, plus other quality district cricketers.

“Then I get a call-up replacing Stuart Law, so no pressure.

“We played a local Essex team which had Alistair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Graham Napier and Ryan ten Doeschate.

“I did not get a bowl, but took a catch off Fleming and Hughes which was just amazing.”

Clark claims he was the second top scorer that day and remembers smashing Napier and Cook to the boundary in the “highest standard” he ever played.

Back home the all-rounder also got the chance to step into the heartbeat of the biggest international teams in the world and bowl to some of the greats.

“I was playing the country carnival and during the same week Australia was playing an ODI at Adelaide, so I knew someone who knew the team manager and asked ‘is there any chance of being a net bowler?’,” he said.

“Not really was the initial answer, but once I said I was at the country carnival they said ‘sure come along at 1pm’ so I got there and received some training kit and new balls.

“We were just warming up and then suddenly these legends just arrive and you are like ‘wow’.

“I am about to bowl my first ball, look up and see I have got Adam Gilchrist facing at the other end and I do not even remember my feet touching the ground during the first delivery.

“But it hit the wicket and by the third ball I got into a groove and I enjoyed it because it was just like a net at home with Glenn McGrath having a whinge about being too old, Stuart Clark talking basketball with the fielding coach, Brett Lee drinking too much Gatorade and Ricky Ponting chirping around with everyone.”

Despite claiming he took the wickets of all-time greats such as Ponting, Gilchrist and Michael Clarke, the Mount Gambier man still believes winning Barber Shields for the Bulldogs remains on top of the list.

Clark said he tried to remain as professional as possible to perform in every game until the end, where he opened the bowling in a semi-final and took three critical wickets to prove none of the old magic had disappeared.

“When I was not playing footy I would do three months of running before the first net session so it was all about fitness,” he said.

“In Warrnambool for some reason I had a couple of drinks the night before and I dropped a catch which lost us the game, so I said to myself ‘I will never do that again’, so I didn’t drink from Wednesday night onwards before a game and always did lots of warm ups.

“I wanted to fully commit to cricket and it has taken me a few places, but premierships and friendships are the highlights because everyone asks how many Barber Shields did you win at the end of your career.

“We won two, but could have won more, but the competition was just so good.”

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