THE INDIAN CONNECTION
“I like knowing the reason why. I ask the question why. Even in cricket, like why are we not batting well and look at all the reasons and possibilities” – Clark © Getty
Two Indian gentlemen once showed up at Stuart Clark’s home in Sydney to buy his father’s car. As the two sat there negotiating, they decided to break into Tamil. The next minute they almost fell of their chair. Bruce Clark had started responding to them in their language. The deal was closed eventually but the same couldn’t be said about the Indian visitors’ gaping jaws.
It wasn’t, however, some party trick that would be played out in the Clark household with unsuspecting visitors from the subcontinent. Simply a rare occasion where Bruce, who was born in Chennai pre-independence and grew up there till the 1960s, couldn’t help but give away his Indian-ness and his affiliation to the land of his birth.
“It was so funny. Dad could speak Hindi too, a few swear words mainly. Mom was born there, and she knew some of the words too in fact,” recalls the junior Clark, who went on to play 24 Tests, 39 ODIs and 9 T20Is for Australia. He reveals to understand a few words in Hindi himself.
“A couple of times in commentary, Harsha (Bhogle) and I, were having some fun. Can’t put it all together, can understand a little bit,” says the lanky, tall former fast bowler.
Unlike his father, who has unfortunately passed on, the 43-year-old Clark’s bond with India isn’t a direct one. He was born in Sydney and has always been a thoroughbred Australian in his ways, and then also went on to represent his nation at the highest level of sport. But he did live vicariously through his parents about their time spent in India and their experiences there. Unfortunately, Clark only stepped foot there once he was into his early 30s, when he was on tour for an ODI series.
“I never got to go as a kid, only as a cricketer. I went to Chennai. That was where my dad was born. I went around and had a look at everything. It’s all changed. It’s been 40 years,” says Clark.
He does admit to have grown up on various stories of his parents’ time in India and on dosas and biryani. Clark and his wife often indulge in Indian food too on days when they eat out.
There’s one aspect of Clark’s life which doesn’t have any semblance of his Indian heritage though-his penchant to be a master of many trades when it comes to vocations on the sidelines and post his cricket.
As a teenager, Clark dabbled in the real estate business before trying his hand at engineering, which didn’t end well. “I went for two weeks. I told myself this was rubbish and I’m not dealing this. I started the course but dropped out.” There was an attempt at a commerce degree as well before he finally settled on law. He started studying for a degree while he was playing. But before he could finish, and once he hung up his boots in 2011, there was a stint in-charge of the Sydney Sixers franchise in the Big Bash League. “I had a subject or two to go, which I did at night.”
Clark’s decision to then turn his back completely on sport came about in his quest to go see “how the rest of the world works”. That quest took him to the city council where he worked as a lawyer for two years. It also led him to making multiple visits to the court, and a realisation.
“It’s an interesting place. I tell people it’s not a place you want to go too often. But it’s pretty good fun. I was up at the court all the time. Always filing documents, always in there. A couple of times I also appeared as a junior for litigation matters but that’s about it.”
Clark was a late bloomer with his cricket as well. He only broke into the Australian squad after turning 30, when the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie had begun to hit their final strides. But he took to international cricket immediately, and had great returns in his maiden series against South Africa and then held his own with his high-profile colleagues in the famous 5-0 whitewash of England in 2006-07. He remained an integral part of the side for a couple of more years before fading away.
The man nicknamed Sarfaraz by Mark Waugh for how his bowling style is learnt to have mimicked that of former Pakistani pacer Sarfaraz Nawaz insists on not many people recognizing or relating the Clark in the lawyer garb to the one that swung the ball around for Australia at the highest level.
“Nobody said one because you have barristers and stuff like that running at you. In that sort of environment you have to be professional. If I’m court and the judge says something, I do it. Judges are very complex, in the sense they are complex but simple. Never give you anything. Occasionally someone would say “aah”,” he says, adding that it was more on the train on his way to work that he would get noticed. “someone would ask for a photo with me and everyone would wonder, ‘who’s that?'”
Clark on the other hand could strangely relate practicing law with running in with a semi new-ball, he says. It’s all a matter of wanting to ask questions is how he explains it.
“I like knowing the reason why. I ask the question why. Even in cricket, like why are we not batting well and look at all the reasons and possibilities. I’m not saying what we are doing is wrong but we got to explore all the reasons.” He also recalls how he was different in a way from his teammates when it came to trying to go the extra mile to find reasons.
“John Buchanan used to give everyone notes and you have heard the stories. Not everyone agreed, but I did. I like knowing. That was where I was different and that’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t impose that on anyone. Sometimes in sport we get into the thinking that there’s only one way to do it. That’s the way you should do it. I like (Jasprit) Bumrah because he’s out of the box. He’s out of the mould. I like to ask why he’s doing it.”
You tell him his bowling was the same and he agrees, and adds that his strength was based around being mentally stronger and trying to out-patience the batsman. As his sensational bowling averages of 23.86 and 27.86 in Tests and ODIs respectively show, he achieved both.
It was though always going to be a matter of time before Clark returned to sport in some form. He is after all a self-confessed sports nut who often ends up upsetting his wife owing to him constantly watching either cricket, tennis, hockey or any other sport for that matter on TV. And when the CEO of the Rugby League, which is paramount in Sydney, bumped into him and offered him a job, Clark was ready to accept it with both hands. Four years later, the COO is the second in-charge of the New South Wales Rugby League. The Cronulla Sharks fan though reveals to having little to do with being on the ground and putting his sporting expertise to use.
“I deal with contracts and negotiations and commercial things, I get involved in dealing with people and HR, doing handshaking thing. We recently built a centre of excellence, high performing centre worth about 40 million dollars. So I have been running around that for the last two years, building a football field, a gym and administrations and kitchens and dining rooms. I don’t a lot of football, I’m not a football guy. So I shouldn’t be involved in that.”
His rugby commitments though take a break every year during the Sydney Test when Clark chips in as a radio commentator, allowing him to get closer to the cricket. Commentary perhaps also presents a chance for another India visit, considering how many Aussies end up there during the IPL.
He quips, “I asked Harsha to give me a commentary contract there.”