Clarke prospers with attacking intent
As the 16,512 spectators at Adelaide Oval rose to honour Michael Clarke at the end of the day he became the first man in Test history to pass 200 four times in a year, one broadcast observer marvelled at the captain's sense of timing, as records and milestones tumble to his bat at all the right moments. "It's almost like he's a news editor," he gasped.
This was indeed another note-perfect occasion for Clarke, a man and a cricketer growing in stature among the game's greats with every day at the batting crease. He reached two major marks with the sort of timing once the exclusive preserve of his friend and mentor Shane Warne, smashing Morne Morkel for five boundaries in an over to go to 150, then reaching a double-hundred the ball before Michael Hussey passed his own century, cause for hugs and photos all round.
But there is substance, thought and courage too behind a face at ease with the cameras. As in Brisbane, Clarke was rewarded for a tremendous attacking intent from a position of some uncertainty, this time 3 for 55, but here in Adelaide the innings had the added advantage of taking place on the first day to push Australia into a position in which they already appear the only side capable of victory.
Clarke has not yet had the time or the inclination to ponder on the wider context of what he achieved on Thursday, or this year, but he is certain that the greatest source of his success is an aggressive attitude. In this he resembles the famed remark of the French General Ferdinand Foch who offered the following thought on his battlefield situation: "My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I will attack." Having twice had Australia three down for not many, South Africa have twice been turned back with impressive force.
"Through my career that's probably the only way I've had success, when you look at the innings I've made big scores, it's exactly that - the counter-attack, being positive, playing my natural game," Clarke said. "And there's risk there. As Graeme [Smith] and AB [de Villiers] reminded me a lot of times today I had a lot of arse, there's no doubt about that but you need it in this game. I remember playing England through the Australian summer a couple of years ago and I couldn't make a run, so when you're scoring runs you want to cash in.
"It's really nice to be making runs, and the down side to this great game is when you're not, you find it really hard to find your next run, and that happens through your career. That's happened a lot for me, and I've got dropped, and when I came back from getting dropped I said I want to make the most of the good days and that's what I feel like I'm doing."
Apart from culture, intent is one of the buzz words for Australia's cricketers these days. Clarke and David Warner resolved not to waste time trying to survive on an Adelaide pitch that offered true bounce and comfortable pace. Their bravery delighted the coach Mickey Arthur just as much as the assembled crowd. "The one thing Davey and I spoke about during the week was our intent, the way I tried to play in Brisbane and the way we were going to try to play today was exactly that, we wanted to be positive," Clarke said. "We both took that approach today, we were going to see the ball and react and not worry too much about the result, if we get a good ball, we get a good ball."
Partnerships such as those with Warner and Hussey have been a critical element of Clarke's success since he became captain. The one major innings in that time that was an entirely solo effort - the 151 against South Africa in Cape Town - was ultimately inconsequential because no one else was able to help Clarke, resulting in a middling team tally around a brilliant individual one.
"A lot of credit needs to go to Huss and Davey as well, the way they played up the other end today made my life and my job a lot easier," Clarke said. "If I didn't score there was no stress. That gets forgotten a lot of the time: how important your partner is when you have success."
Another partnership that has helped Clarke is the one that he has established with his wife Kyly. They married in a lavish but secret ceremony during the winter, and the wry note made by Ed Cowan in Brisbane that Clarke does not have a Test batting average since becoming a husband remains true - he has now scored 483 runs for the series without being dismissed, and he gestured with passion in Mrs Clarke's direction as he strode towards 200.
"I know she's supporting me, that's the type of woman she is," Clarke said. "She's getting into her cricket and it's great she can be here in Adelaide. It's special for everybody [who] has thrown their support behind me, and the people that are close who've been there through good days and bad days, whether that's on the field with cricket or off the field with my personal life and things that have happened through my life, especially with my family. I think when you perform well, my dedication is certainly to my team-mates first and foremost, but also through the people who've stood by me through good and bad days."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here