Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day November 12, 2012

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

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew 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!

  • Zaccharia 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.

  • Ben 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!!

  • Curtis 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Anoop on November 13, 2012, 1:44 GMT

    Miracles don't happen always.

  • 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

  • Andrew 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.

  • David 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?

  • rob 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 ? ...

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