Rikki Clarke intends to fully live up to his billing as one of the senior players at Warwickshire and help them push hard to bring the championship title back to Edgbaston next season.
Just one year into a four-year deal with the Bears, all-rounder Clarke is central to the team’s plans to mount a serious challenge in the championship next time round – as well as radically improving in limited-overs cricket.
And that pivotal role is one the 32-year-old is happy to take on, having been accustomed to carrying such responsibility ever since emerging into the star-studded Surrey team as a youngster.
“Even as a younger player, I always wanted to be the sort of player that others look to,” Clarke said.
“I want to be a leader, with bat, ball and in the field. Even in my Surrey days I liked to think people looked up to me and that’s something I relished.
“It’s no different now and I want to be a leader for Warwickshire over the coming years and hopefully contribute a lot to us winning more trophies.”
Warwickshire were never seriously in the hunt for trophies last season, but the former England all-rounder Clarke reckons that finishing fourth in the championship was a highly creditable effort in what were often difficult circumstances.
“Realistically, if you look back at the number of guys we lost to England and the amount of injuries we had to deal with, for us to finish fourth was a very good effort,” he said.
“Losing Chris Wright for half the season was a big blow. Boyd Rankin and Chris Woakes were away from us half the time because of England calls and then we lost Jim Troughton, our main leader, which is quite a difficult thing to deal with and I think we dealt with it quite well.
“The positive side of having all those players unavailable was that it gave the coaches and captain the opportunity to see some younger guys come through and step up which they did really well.
“That is always good for the future of the club.
“Fingers crossed we won’t have as many injuries next year and so can hopefully push on and challenge for the title again.
“Our one-day cricket wasn’t what we wanted last season and I think it is a case of not quite back to the drawing board but getting our skills better this winter and understanding what we need to do to be better in T20 cricket.
“Since I have been here we have not been successful in T20 and it’s definitely a squad that should be achieving better in T20 and 50-over cricket.
“We have been back in training since the start of November and are working really hard and the harder you work on your game and specific skills, the better you get.
“The lads are putting the hours in and hopefully we will find that little bit extra in our locker next season and that little bit of extra freedom will come into our game so we will challenge hard again.”
Another all-rounder, Chris Woakes, will be a key component of their challenge and Warwickshire were delighted that he recently signed a two-year contract extension, binding him to the club until the end of the 2016 season.
Woakes, 24, first joined as an 11-year-old before going on to graduate from the academy to make his first-class debut in 2006.
He has scored 3,386 runs and taken 290 wickets in first-class cricket and made his Test debut for England against Australia last summer.
“I have been with Warwickshire for 13 years and am a proud Bear,” said Woakes, now in Australia for a short stint with Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, “so I was very keen to extend my contract.
“We’ve got a great set-up at Edgbaston with fantastic supporters, facilities and coaching team and a strong squad that can compete for silverware in all competitions.
“We are all working hard in pre-season training and looking forward to the challenges of 2014.”
Director of cricket, Dougie Brown, is delighted that Woakes has renewed his contract.
“Chris is an outstanding cricketer who can change a match with bat and ball,” he said.
“Whilst he is an experienced member of the squad who has represented England in all formats of the game. He is still only 24 and we expect his best days to be ahead of him. We are delighted that those years will be spent here at Edgbaston,” he added.
Woakes is one of 19 members of Warwickshire’s academy programme who have won professional contracts with the Bears, with Pete McKay, Tom Lewis and Jon Webb the latest players to graduate to the professional ranks last month.
Overlooked by England for the current Ashes tour, Woakes was pleased to accept an invitation to take part in the Big Bash down under instead
He will spend the festive period in Australia after being recruited by Sydney Thunder to replace Tillakaratne Dilshan for matches against local rivals the Sydney Sixers on December 21 and Adelaide Strikers on December 27.
Thunder general manager, Nick Cummins, is pleased by the move.
“Signing a player of Chris’s all-round ability is a major bonus for the Thunder,” he said.
“As someone who bowls with good pace and is more than capable of clearing the ropes with the bat, he will provide us with a high-quality performer.
“He will play the first two matches for the Thunder alongside Eoin Morgan, and I know that he is excited about the prospect of playing in the Big Bash and helping the Thunder get off to a strong start in the competition.”