Stuart Clark’s father Bruce was trying to sell their old car to a couple of Indians in Sydney. After initial negotiations, the two moved to a corner and started conversing between themselves in Tamil, unaware that Bruce was born and raised in Madras and could understand every word they were speaking. Suddenly, much to their shock, Bruce went up to them and shot back a couple of questions in Tamil. The bewildered duo was at a loss for words. They stopped bargaining and bought the car immediately.
Clark is in splits when he narrates the story. One could imagine the awkwardness of the situation, and that too in the early 1990s. “It was a funny little incident, and I could still see the shock on their faces. It’s something you don’t expect, especially back in those days,” he says. Not just Tamil, his father knew Hindi — Clark emphasises those are mostly swear words —while his mother, bred in Kerala, understood a smattering of Malayalam. “Whenever she got angry or for a change, she would slip in a few words. We would just laugh. I think those were swear words too,” he says.
The former seamer claims he knows a few words too, but is not as confident as his father was. “A couple of times in commentary, Harsha (Bhogle) and I were having some fun. I can’t put it all together (and make a sentence), can understand a little bit. Of course I was born and raised here, after the family shifted to England in the 1960s and then fled the cold their to settle down here (Sydney),” he says.
But the Indian-ness remained and they passed it on to Stuart, who soaks in a sort of second-hand nostalgia. “We grew up hearing a lot of stories and when I became a cricketer I always wanted to visit the country, though I could only do it in my late 20s, when I came there for the Tests in 2008 and for the Champions League with the (NSW) Blues. It was a very emotional,” he says.
The Test series barely afforded him time for retracing his father’s steps. He had an ordinary series as well — managing only two wickets in as many Tests, a tour that signalled the beginning of his end. He didn’t have a fruitful seven-match ODI series either. But on his next visit, for the Champions League T20, Clark ensured that Chennai was part of his itinerary. Though the matches were staged in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi, he stayed back and visited Chennai, in search of his fathers’ old haunts. He found nothing but felt fulfilled. “I once went to the place where my dad grew up in Chennai just to feel the place. It has all changed, it’s been 40 years, but I felt really happy. I really feel I have an affiliation with the country and some of the cities,” he says.
The affiliation continues through food. “That’s why I like having food from the press box, because you get Indian food. I love spicy stuff. My mother used to cook me Indian food and so I’m used to spicy stuff. But not so much for my wife. So we don’t cook Indian food at home, but whenever we go out, I always scan the menu for some Indian stuff,” Clark says.
Back in his playing days, he used to wish some Indian Premier League team would snaffle him so that he could explore the country. But line-and-length craftsmen like him weren’t the most coveted stock. He ended up unsold in the first IPL auction. But he has chalked out another method to reacquaint with his roots: “I always tell Harsha to fetch me an IPL commentary contract.”
“I always like to ask questions.” He did to unsuspecting batsmen, teasing their temperance and technique with nifty line and length. “I never tried to blast them, but test their patience and technique,” he explains his craft, testified by his numbers. A haul of 94 Test wickets in 24 matches at 23.86.
Another character trait is his restlessness until he finds the answers to the questions bothering him. “I like knowing the reason. I ask the question why. Even in cricket, like why we are 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. That’s what I like doing,” he explains.
It’s an obsession that has made him traverse unconventional paths in life. Fresh out of college, he enrolled in an engineering course, but flunked after two weeks. He then took up commerce while also part-timing as a real-estate agent. Then, towards the end of his career, he began to pursue law. Soon after he ended his international career, Clark began practising, before he realised it was boring. He found courtrooms awkward, judges complex and colleagues cut-throat. “I realised no one was your friend,” he says.
But the law background did help him in landing his dream job, which was to be involved with rugby team NSW Sharks. “One day I met the CEO of Rubgy league, got to know him, an opportunity came and I took it. It’s been four years in the making. I am a Sharks fan, grew up not far from where the club was, and grew up following it,” he says.
The reason he sought alternative career routes: “To get away from sport and know how the rest of the world works.” But in the end, he realised one thing: “I love all these very much, but love cricket more.” And it was cricket that gave him the passage to India.