Clarke the key for Blues after McDonald ton
New South Wales 5 for 171 (Clarke 71*) trail Victoria 378 (Hussey 122, McDonald 100, Cameron 3-91) by 207 runs
Michael Clarke was the first of Australia's Test players to make good use of their current round of Sheffield Shield outings, but he will need to turn his 71 into a big hundred after Andrew McDonald's century put Victoria on top. New South Wales were relying heavily on Clarke at the end of the second day, after the rest of their star-studded top order faltered.
Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Phil Jaques all made starts but failed to capitalise, and at stumps the Blues were 5 for 171, still trailing by 207 runs. Adding to their problems, they had just lost Brad Haddin, bowled by Clint McKay for 2, late in the day, and Steven Smith was fresh to the crease on 4.
However, Clarke's form was a positive not just for New South Wales but also for the Australian side, after his struggles during last month's Test series in India. He has spent much of the past fortnight worrying about his captaincy and batting in the shorter formats, but he enjoyed the return to the red ball two weeks away from the Ashes opener.
He struck only three boundaries but his cautious tempo was justified after the Blues wobbled to 3 for 75. Peter Siddle, who is aiming to win a spot for the Brisbane Test, collected the first wicket when Hughes played on for 12, and in his first game for New South Wales, Watson scored briskly but was caught in the gully off the bowling of John Hastings for 20.
That left plenty of attention on Khawaja, who began the season with a double-century and is viewed as the next in line for a Test call-up should the selectors run out of patience with Michael Hussey or Marcus North this summer. However, Khawaja departed for 23, snapped up at first slip by Cameron White off the spin of Jon Holland.
Clarke began the rebuilding process with Jaques, one of eight Test cricketers in the line-up, who was batting in the unfamiliar No. 5 position. His innings ended on 28 when he was caught behind off McDonald, who bowled tightly to end the day with 1 for 11 off nine overs.
It was a happy day all-round for McDonald, who still holds a Cricket Australia contract but has slipped well down the pecking order after playing four Tests in 2008-09. McDonald became the first man to post two centuries this Sheffield Shield season, when he built on David Hussey's 122 to help drive Victoria to a strong total of 378.
McDonald was eventually caught off the bowling of Smith, but the catcher, Nathan Hauritz, had another disappointing day. On the traditionally spin-friendly SCG, Hauritz finished with figures of 0 for 74 from 15 overs, while his main challenger for a spin position in the Test team, Smith, grabbed 2 for 45.