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Joe Clarke's sweet destruction of Northants suggests England penance should be over

Joe Clarke acknowledges his hundred Getty Images

Nottinghamshire 214 for 7 (Clarke 136) beat Northamptonshire 200 for 7 (Cobb 62, Ball 3-58) by 14 runs

If you are England, then you habitually look away now. But perhaps the time has come when you shouldn't. Joe Clarke, who has been easy to ignore since his career went off the rails, played one of the finest T20 innings ever produced in England, an innings so mellow in its destruction that birds might have fallen from the sky, or traffic outside the Northampton ground come to a halt in supplication.

Clarke's 136 from 65 balls, with 11 sixes and six fours, was the eighth-highest T20 score in England and the best by a Notts batter. His 11 sixes have only been surpassed by three players - Graham Napier and Cameron Delport, both for Essex, and Chris Gayle for Somerset. Gayle might have possessed more awe, but surely none of them played with Clarke's sweetness of touch. In this sort of form, very few do: he is the best England-qualified batter without an international cap in the country.

He single-handedly took hold of Notts' stuttering start to the Blast and guided it into winning territory at the third time of asking. Northants' innings was the undercard, but they can feel good about getting within 14 runs.

They retained slight hopes of chasing down Notts' 214 for 7 with 87 needed off the last seven overs, and Josh Cobb on 55 from 24 balls, and going long at every opportunity, but then Cobb yanked a hamstring, the offspinner Matt Carter, who was excellent throughout, reasserted control, and from then on it was just a matter of how close they could get.

It is worth reminding ourselves after Clarke's gentle demolition of Northants' attack that there is not one England batter who is persona non grata but two. Alex Hales, he of the Johnny Ringo moustache, is the sharpshooter who will probably never escape those "Wanted: Alive of Dead" posters, and appeals for clemency are regularly lodged on his behalf. But Clarke, too, was once England's golden child, only for his magical adventure to turn into the Golden Child, Eddie Murphy style, a mess of a film which ranks at 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.

He does not make light of his mistakes, as he made clear in a revealing interview in ESPNcricinfo last year, and he saw a psychologist last summer to help him further understand that phase of his life and how to respond to it. More pertinent for his batting career, though, might have been a discussion with Peter Moores, Notts' coach, who told him he was sort of a messed-up version of Marnus Labuschagne.

By his own admission, he has missed out on a couple of Championship hundreds that were in the offing this summer, but If the ego of a talented youngster has finally given way to the substance that is found in true quality, then the runs may be about to flow. And England are not exactly drowning in that commodity, not in Test cricket at least. Forgiveness is given most readily to those who are most needed - that's just the desperate way of the world.

Cold statistics illustrate how much Clarke dominated Notts' innings. His 136 came off 65 balls at a strike rate of 209. The rest of Notts' batting line-up managed 67 off 57 at a strike rate of 117. Clarke hit 11 sixes; the rest mustered only two more. It was a supreme one-man show.

From the second ball, it felt as if he meant business as the left-arm spinner Graeme White was treated to the gentlest of inside-out blows over extra cover, a shot played as if he was carrying out an MOT on his timing. Dropped on 29, he exacted mean punishment. White and the swing (non-existent on this occasion) of Ben Sanderson were most harshly dealt with, with Sanderson conceding three sixes in succession in the 16th over.

The first of these blows left Sanderson with hands on hips, as he exchanged a few words of despair with the non-striker, Steven Mullaney. A shimmy across his stumps, followed by the laziest six over midwicket, left Sanderson with hands on knees. The next ball, with the bowler by then disorientated, was a full toss which was deposited over long-on. By then Sanderson didn't know where to put his hands - or put the ball.

Only the South African Wayne Parnell, the one bowler of international quality, escaped punishment - or sixes - and, suitably, he almost pulled off a return catch, on 125, although he was probably just grateful he escaped with his hand intact. He was also caught off Brandon Glover's waist-high no-ball on 127, a second blemish which saw Glover removed from the attack. He fell in the last over, a nine iron down the ground against Tom Taylor.

The rest of Notts' much-vaunted batting line-up failed to fire, although Peter Trego, promoted up to No. 3 in the absence of Ben Duckett, who did not travel to Northampton as a Covid precaution, did share in an 82-run stand before he became one of a succession of batsman to slog to deep midwicket.

Clarke marked his hundred with a beating of his chest - although he did not appear to follow up with some appropriate verses from St Luke about requesting God to be merciful because he was a sinner. It is time for England to be merciful though and to contact him to state, in the clearest terms, that runs are now all that matter.

Northants 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st7RE LeviAM Rossington
2nd35AM RossingtonR Vasconcelos
3rd1JJ CobbAM Rossington
4th104JJ CobbRI Keogh
5th7WD ParnellJJ Cobb
6th15WD ParnellSA Zaib
7th23TAI TaylorSA Zaib
8th8GG WhiteSA Zaib