Australia in SA

Clarke ton frustrates Proteas

2011-11-09 18:39
Michael Clarke (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Cape Town - Michael Clarke played a captain’s innings of courage and character to keep his Australian side on an even keel on a weather-disrupted opening day of the first Test against the Proteas at Newlands on Wednesday.

Full scorecard

Only 55 overs were possible after Graeme Smith had won the toss and taken the decision to field first in his 83rd match as captain. There was no other decision he could have taken with rain and heavy cloud around throughout the day.

The Australian total of 214/8 hardly differed from the 209 all out they made in 72 overs on their last visit to this ground in 2009. But it is a total that is worth a great deal more. On the previous occasion Ricky Ponting won the toss and could have had no difficulty in deciding to bat first.

Clarke’s innings this time was a magnificent effort. He took some nasty punishment from Dale Steyn early in his knock. The World’s No 1 bowler was a cut above the rest of the attack and his figures of 4/31 in 14 overs were more than deserved. He should complete his second five-wicket haul at this ground and maintain his record in the last three years of averaging seven wickets per match in Tests at this venue.

If he can take another eight in the match, which is by no means beyond the realms of possibility, he can equal Aussie great Dennis Lillee’s world leading performance of taking 250 Test wickets in only 48 matches. Second on the list is currently Allan Donald, Steyn’s bowling coach, who took 50 wickets to reach that mark.

Clarke finished the day unbeaten on 107 (114 balls, 17 fours). It was his 16th Test match century and the second in successive matches since he took over as captain of Australia. He has only been in charge for four matches which suggests that captaincy responsibility is making no adverse impact on his batting form. If anything it is working the other way around.

He scored heavily on the off-side but the real mark of quality in his innings was the manner in which he took the attack to all the South African bowlers. He had a strike rate of at least 80 against all of them which said something considering the quality that Steyn produced.

The blood and guts manner in which he overcame difficult conditions would certainly have earned the approval of former Australian captain Allan Border who often filled that role for his country and watched the innings unfold from the TV commentary position.

The Proteas went into the match with two new caps in their attack in Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir - the latter marking the first appearance by a South African leg spinner in a Test at this venue in some 55 years! His role in the match will be predominantly in the second half of the five days but Philander could feel satisfied with his return of 3/54 in 16 overs, the first of which gave Mark Boucher his 500th catch in Test match cricket.

Two of those dismissals were for the ICC Rest of World XI and he subsequently advanced to 499 for South Africa when he got rid of danger man Mike Hussey as well.

In the current conditions one imagine the Australians will feel that they have a strong hand if they get anywhere above 300. Much will depend on the weather and how long the overhead conditions take to clear.

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