When England’s badminton stars take to the court at the Siri Fort Sports Complex for their opening two matches in the mixed team competition on Monday it will be the start of an 11-day journey for the 10-strong team that – hopefully – will end with five gold medal matches on the final day of the Games.
For Anthony Clark, however, Monday’s matches will be special for another reason.
Barring injury, or some other mishap, in the morning bout against the Falkland Islands, the 32-year-old Leicester man will become only the 13th player to reach a century of England caps when he pulls on the national shirt to play Uganda at 7.00pm Delhi time.
It’s an honour the veteran of two previous Commonwealth Games is rightly proud of.
“I’ve always felt that playing for England is very special,” he said. “Playing for your country is the highest honour you can get. I’ve had a lot of victories and won a lot of medals but pulling on an England shirt always feels special.”
Clark won his first cap against China in 1997, a game he remembers well.
“I was so up for the match and so wanted to play well,” he said. “I played a great match to win and left the court feeling that I wanted to play for England again. It was a great start and it will be amazing to win my 100th cap.”
Clark, a consistent international since that debut 13 years ago, has a string of major honours to his name, not least five Commonwealth medals, including team gold in Manchester eight years ago, and the world championship silvers he won with long-term doubles partners Donna Kellogg and Robert Blair back in 2006.
These days he plays men’s doubles with Nathan Robertson, one of the 12 players he’ll join as an England centurion. Fittingly, it could well be the England flag bearer himself who accompanies Clark when he makes his 100th appearance on Monday evening.
“It will be great,” said Clark. “I partnered Nathan when he won his 100th cap and it was a crucial match against Japan, which we managed to win. The match on Monday will not be quite so critical but it will be an important step on the way to hopefully winning medals which is why we are here.”
There is no doubt the achievement means a lot to Clark, who could easily have become a cricketer if he hadn’t pursued his badminton career – he once knocked Andrew Flintoff’s middle stump out of the ground – and regaining the mixed team gold on Friday (8 October) in Delhi would be a suitable way to mark the occasion.
“Victories for England mean more to me than any others,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in playing for a team and raising my game when others are depending on me.
“I play with a lot of pride and passion and it is an amazing feeling when you pull off an important victory. When Nathan and I played in the Commonwealth Games in 2002 we had to beat one of the top two doubles partnerships in the world to make sure that England won the team gold.
Like Robertson, and his current mixed doubles partner Heather Olver, Clark is coached by England team manager Andy Wood, who he credits with being “a massive influence”, while Indonesia’s Olympic gold medallist Rexy Mainaky is his “great inspiration”.
But Clark is careful to recognise the backroom staff too – that is, his family.
“They play a big part in my success,” he said. “Especially my wife Emma, who stays at home and looks after our children Mia (9) and Rowan (7), which allows me to focus on playing.”
Eleven days of focus now face Clark in Delhi, starting on Monday with one he’ll definitely remember – whatever the results.
Clark will join the following 12 players on 100 caps or more:
145 Gillian Clark
143 Stephen Baddeley
138 Mike Tredgett
128 Andy Goode
123 Gillian Gowers
119 Darren Hall
115 Helen Troke
111 Gillian Gilks, Ray Stevens
105 Nick Yates
102 Nathan Robertson
101 Martin Dew