Clarke's positivity rubs off on Australia
Over the past five days at the Gabba, Australia and South Africa played out the first draw between the sides in their past 14 Tests. The rain on the second day didn't prevent Michael Clarke from trying to fashion a route to victory. And in a four-day game on one of the flattest, slowest Australian pitches in recent years, that his men went so close to achieving that goal was a remarkable effort.
It also said much about the way the Australians approach the game under Clarke's leadership. Though he was never captain of Australia's Test team, Shane Warne always believed Australia could win, from virtually any position. Clarke admires Warne's mindset and has instilled it into his own side. Since he took over as full-time captain, the only match Australia have drawn that was not rain-affected was the game that gave Australia a series victory in Colombo last year. They have lost only two Tests, and won nine.
After the first day, which brought only two wickets, the Australians not only lifted, they showed an intent that the South African camp seemed to lack. Ed Cowan played his strokes and with Clarke rebuilt from a perilous 3 for 40, and when their monster partnership was broken, Michael Hussey ensured the tempo did not slip. From a position of South African dominance, the match turned firmly in Australia's favour.
While he was compiling his third double-century this year, Clarke's mind was active. How can we win this? Do we declare behind and challenge Graeme Smith to set us a target? Should we push on, build a lead and put South Africa's batsmen under pressure? The runs came so quickly that Clarke decided on the latter approach, giving his bowlers most of the final day to do their work. They claimed five wickets, but ultimately time beat them.
"I thought it was going to be tough if we had to chase 250 or 280 on that wicket on the last day," Clarke said. "I thought our best chance of winning, especially the way Michael Hussey was playing and scoring quite quickly last night, was to get a lead, come out this morning and be as positive as we could, and then give ourselves enough time in the game to take nine wickets. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time.
"The boys deserve a lot of credit for their attitudes more than anything else. Our intent was the way it needs to be when you're playing against such a good team. I think the way Ed Cowan and Michael Hussey batted, they certainly showed that intent and our attitude was spot on today with the ball. We were quite aggressive with our approach ... We can certainly use the momentum that we take from this game and hopefully take it into Adelaide."
Australia's attacking mindset was personified by James Pattinson on the final day. In a spell full of venom and verbal aggression, Pattinson was infuriated by Smith pulling away as a bird flew across the pitch with Pattinson in his delivery stride. Pattinson told Smith what he thought in no uncertain terms, and sent down a searing bouncer next ball, and it was the start of short but fiery contest between the two men.
It didn't take Pattinson long to have his man. Coming around the wicket, he enticed a loose shot from Smith, whose edge flew to gully. A pumped-up Pattinson gave Smith a send-off of sorts, but Clarke had no problem with the aggression showed by his young fast bowler. Pattinson collected five wickets for the match, the most by any Australian bowler, and he is rapidly making himself the spearhead of Australia's attack.
"Patto knows the rules," Clarke said. "Like all the bowlers, I think the aggression, the intent is a big part of the way we play our best cricket. I certainly don't want to stop that. But we understand there's a line and you can go to the line but you can't overstep it. Simple as that.
"Patto's enjoying being out there and playing, being on the park. I've said for a while we've got plenty of talent, it's now about performance with the ball. It's about guys being fit and firing at the right time. This is a great test for our quicks. We're playing against a very good batting team, as we did against India last summer. It's been a good start for us, especially after day one."
Day one certainly wasn't a good start for the Australians. But there is no question they will fly out of Brisbane with more reasons for positivity than their rivals. And as Clarke knows, positive thinking is half the battle.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here