Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day

Clarke perfects blueprint for the captain's innings

Match-altering, lead-from-the-front innings have become Australia captain Michael Clarke's trademark over the past year

Brydon Coverdale in Brisbane

November 12, 2012

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke reached his third double century in 2012, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, 4th day, Brisbane, November 12, 2012
Michael Clarke has batted his way into exulted company as Australia captain © Getty Images
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There's a certain Venn diagram that shows just how remarkable a cricketer Michael Clarke has become. In one circle are the men who have scored three double-centuries as Australia's Test captain. Greg Chappell is there, so is Bob Simpson. In the other circle are those who have made three double-hundreds in a calendar year. Ricky Ponting is in that one. In the middle, fitting both categories, are Don Bradman and Michael Clarke.

Clarke went to stumps on the fourth day at the Gabba unbeaten on 218. Within a matter of minutes, he was being interviewed on camera by Mark Taylor. It was an exhaustive chat, but Clarke was far from exhausted. He had been batting all day and looked like he could have kept going until midnight.

These long, lead-from-the-front innings have become Clarke's trademark over the past year. There was his 329 not out against India in Sydney, his 210 in Adelaide later in the same series, and most impressively his 151 on an early-season, seamer-friendly pitch in Cape Town last year. Not to mention 139 against New Zealand at the Gabba last year, and 112 in Sri Lanka last September.

Leaving aside Bill Brown, who led Australia in only one match, Clarke's average of 64.72 as the country's Test captain is second only to Bradman. Not surprisingly, Australia have lost only two of the 14 completed Tests they have played since Clarke took over from Ponting in a full-time capacity. Thanks to Clarke and Ed Cowan, they won't lose this one either.

"I'll say it's coincidental," Clarke said when asked if his rich form was the result of taking on the leadership. "I'm trying to improve every day ... It has been nice to be able to lead by example with the bat. I've said for a while now it's not what you say, it's what you do. Ricky certainly showed that as captain of Australia for a long period of time, that he was scoring plenty of runs and the boys followed. It's nice to be scoring some - hopefully I've got a few more left in me.

"For me it's about being fit and strong. Fitness has always been a big part of my life … being healthy and active. I guess over the last couple of years I've taken myself away from the team and done my own boot camp, for my mind as much as my fitness. There's no doubt I feel a little bit fatigued, more mentally fatigued than physically fatigued at the moment. But I think that couple of weeks away of preparation has held me in really good stead for the last couple of seasons."

Clarke had some good fortune in the earlier stages of his innings, notably with a couple of miscued pulls that somehow fell safely. But having joined Cowan at the crease at 3 for 40, he was perfectly comfortable playing his shots - cutting the short balls and driving, straight and through cover - with the kind of timing that might have had the South African bowlers second-guessing their lengths.

"One of the things Warney has taught me over the years is the better the bowling, the more positive you've got to be," Clarke said. "That was certainly my intent from the first ball I faced yesterday: I wanted to be nice and positive and play my way to try and put it back on the South African bowlers because I know they're a very good attack."

His scoring only became freer as the fourth day wore on and South Africa's fast men were worn down. He saw off the second new ball without any serious concerns. His timing only improved, and to the detriment of Cowan, who was run out while backing up as Clarke's powerful straight drive clipped the fingers of the bowler Steyn and crashed into the stumps.

Then came more runs. And more. And still more. When the day began, the bookmakers were quoting odds of 101-1 for an Australian victory. By stumps, they were offering 9-1. Clarke and Cowan had batted South Africa out of the contest. Over the past year, Clarke has rewritten the book on the perfect captain's innings. This latest chapter was a fitting inclusion.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Meety on (November 14, 2012, 0:57 GMT)

@ mahjut on (November 13 2012, 00:50 AM GMT) - Saffas lost FIVE wickets! With Phillander at the crease too!

Posted by Dubious on (November 13, 2012, 7:03 GMT)

Don't make me laugh Alex. Go to youtube and watch Clarke's 151 in Cape Town last year on a devilish wicket. Or on debut, scoring a century on a turner against quality spin--among other innings.

Posted by sawifan on (November 13, 2012, 4:12 GMT)

@PPD123. What on Earth are you talking about? I believe the last few times IND has toured, the pitches have been anything but green-tops. Just because IND batsmen failed miserably, doesn't mean they were green-tops. On a true green-top BOTH teams will struggle, and the way that Aussie batsmen dominated shows that is was technical/ mental deficiencies that were the problem last tour. The tour before that, Perth was hyped as being super fast, and was anything but, IND won there! And the tour you mentioned re: Ganguly's 144. That game was severely marred by rain, so the pitch was of course going to play worse, and even so, IND drew that series. AUS pitches have always had something for everyone. Only once in a blue moon will a pitch be a true road. Get over yourselves!!

Posted by CSpiers on (November 13, 2012, 2:27 GMT)

Counterattacking the way Cowan and Clarke did and then for Clarke to go on the way he did from an absolute mess at 3/40, fantastic innings and stamina. Like to see a weak minded player like Sehwag or Tendulkar do that, first save the game, then put your team ahead and possibly in a position to have a crack at the win. takes real guts.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2012, 1:58 GMT)

There's a third circle you can add to the Venn diagram - scoring a 300 and a 200 in the one series (which Clarke achieved against India earlier this year). There are only 3 players in that circle - himself, Bradman again and Wally Hammond (again, pretty fair company to be keeping) - and again that leaves him in company with Bradman only in the intersection.

Posted by only_sachin on (November 13, 2012, 1:44 GMT)

Miracles don't happen always.

Posted by mahjut on (November 13, 2012, 0:50 GMT)

I agree that Smith gave up on the win ... but would venture to say Clarke is paying lipservice with talk of a win ... really!?even were Duminy playing i will be shiocked if i wake up tomorrow and see a scoreline which indicated SA losing more than 4 wickets

Posted by Meety on (November 12, 2012, 23:57 GMT)

@Chris_P on (November 12 2012, 21:58 PM GMT) - I actually find it laughable when Poms dismiss Oz win over India as not being meaningful. Oz's result was against an Indian side far better prepared & on paper - stronger squad, than the rabble the Poms crushed.

Posted by one-eyed-but-keepinitreal on (November 12, 2012, 23:23 GMT)

Fifteen out of the nineteen matches that Michael Clarke has scored centuries in, prior to the current, have been decided. Australia have won thirteen and lost two (including the match where the next two completed innings did not surpass his first innings total). How many of the true flat track bullies can say that 79% of their centuries were in a decided test match?

Posted by dunger.bob on (November 12, 2012, 23:17 GMT)

@davidpk on (November 12 2012, 16:17 PM GMT) I don't get it. What in the world does that mean ? ...

Posted by RoJayao on (November 12, 2012, 22:49 GMT)

The captaincy has certainly made Clarke, and finally earned him more widespread respect, though I'm not sure why that took so long! We just need a couple of the younger batsmen to buy into it and go with him now. Watson and Ponting cannot be trusted anymore and Huss can't go on forever. Keep making runs Uzi and Co!

Posted by Chris_P on (November 12, 2012, 21:58 GMT)

@davidpk. There are several, but how about Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka for starters? That was special because visitors rarely win test series there. And really, you can con only win where you are scheduled to play. The team doesn't pick their games.

Posted by vsriharsha on (November 12, 2012, 21:25 GMT)

This is really a captains knock. He has proved many times he can deliver when it is needed most. I think Indian players should learn from him. He has done this act multiple times. I don't remember how many times Sachin or any other indian has done this for India Except few knocks from Laxman and Dravid.

Posted by Coolgye on (November 12, 2012, 21:17 GMT)

It's simple you guys agree with it or not, CLARKE IS ARUABLY THE BEST CAPTAIN. He is the type of captain every team would want.

Posted by Meety on (November 12, 2012, 21:00 GMT)

@davidpk on (November 12 2012, 16:17 PM GMT) - I can tell you a few the Poms have lost.

Posted by Chris_P on (November 12, 2012, 20:39 GMT)

@Sayantan Bhattacharya. Why make the point. Half the tests cricketers play are at home & the pitches in Australia are mostly result pitches, not roads like some others. What's the harm in acknowledging an accomplishment no one else has ever done? I don't get negative comments.

Posted by disco_bob on (November 12, 2012, 20:10 GMT)

In all the excitement we have entirely forgotten that Smith only made 10. Also Smith's captaincy was flat an unadventurous, never once looking like going for a win. Bizarrely, when the second new ball was taken Smith was bowling when it was only 20 overs old, what does that say about intent?

A series is often defined by its Captains, and so far Clarke has the measure of Smith in every respect. I'm not sure we deserve the number one mantle yet, but on the performance so far in this Test, neither does SA.

Posted by Buggsy on (November 12, 2012, 20:09 GMT)

Good to see the Aussie bashers out in force as usual. Face it, after South Africa, Australia have been the in form team in the last 18 months with no series losses. Wins against India, Sri Lanka and West Indies, draws against NZ and South Africa. How does it get any less significant than that?

Posted by   on (November 12, 2012, 16:47 GMT)

All 3 are at home double/triple centuries, two of them against a very mediocre bowling attack.

Posted by mikey76 on (November 12, 2012, 16:43 GMT)

I don't think Cook has exactly suffered from not plying his trade in other countries. He went to India and immediately made a hundred, then scored nearly 800 runs in Australia. England's downward curve has been to do with a fall off in performance from key players like Trott, Swann and Bell and a sudden inability to catch a cricket ball. It will be interesting to see Cook and Clarke go at each other next summer, both lead from the front scoring big runs. Clarke is probably the better more imaginative captain, but Cook will at least have quality spinners to call on. It's looking like a great contest.

Posted by bumsonseats on (November 12, 2012, 16:17 GMT)

and as you say, tell us a significant series that the aussies have won in the last year. or are you thinking of the home series against NZ that the aussies drew. perhaps if you could comment on a theme of your own county would help for a start instead of using a name were you try oneupmanship as a form discredit

Posted by PPD123 on (November 12, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

Excellent innings from Clarke & well backed up by Cowan and Hussey. Must admit it was hillarious when Ian Healy (3 times at least) was referring to the Gabba as "one of the fastest pitch in the world", when he was praising the captain's knock from Clarke. Granted it takes a lot of patience & technique to be able to score a double 100, let alone against this SAF attack, but this pitch is anything but fast. It is a typical "pata" pitch as a certain Sunil Gavaskar would call it, similar to the ones you will find in Multan/SSC/Nagpur. Take no credit away. Clarke came in at 40-3 and rose to the occasion& has taken his team to safe waters.well done. Surprising how the nature of the pitch changes with oppn, When Ind or SL tour they would never get this pitch in Gabba - remember the spicy pitch that was dished out when Ind toured & Ganguly scored that 144 to draw the match.but given the SAF attack I dont blame the Aus. Thats what we call home advantage. Is anyone in in Ind listening? Spin Trac

Posted by Front-Foot_lunge on (November 12, 2012, 13:08 GMT)

It will be interesting to see how Cook handles the pressure of being a captain and maintaining his on-field performance. Being a product of the 'English Machine' (the politburo that runs the game in this country) conformity is demanded over individual excellence. His career, being so mouded by the powers that been means he has never had to ply his trade in other countries and expand his horizons. Strauss, his predecessor, spent many summers honing his trade in grade cricket (county cricket's equivalent) in Australia, where he met his wife. These experiences and the perspective it comes with, provides a well in which the player can draw when things are not going right. Cook has none of that experience. However, Clarke does and so does all the other Australians (Starc, Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja, et al in 2012) who have come over here and prospered. Is it any wonder their curve is on the up and we haven't won a significant series in over a year?

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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