Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day December 4, 2006

Maturing Clarke grabs his chance

Michael Clarke: 'My shot selection was probably a lot better than it has been in the past' © Getty Images
Michael Clarke has followed the advice he had stencilled on his left forearm during the off-season by seizing his first Ashes century. The tattoo carpe diem went on when he failed to star on his Test return in Bangladesh, but with his 124 following a first-game 56 his spot should not be in doubt for the third Test.

An older and wiser Clarke appeared at Adelaide today, starting a new phase in his transition from boy wonder to essential and reliable middle-order batsman. Clarke's chance came up only when Shane Watson's hamstring strained before Brisbane and he is no longer on standby following his first Test century for two years.

At the beginning of Clarke's career everything was predetermined, but over the past 12 months he has forced his way back. Since being dropped against West Indies he has been starved of first-class games and given the late-over scraps in one-day internationals. Lots of time in the nets has resulted in a tinkered mindset and a desire to play straighter.

Both characteristics were on display as he omitted extravagance and settled on a true Test innings. "My shot selection was probably a lot better than it has been in the past," he said. "I knew my opportunities were limited in this series. I was given a chance in Brisbane and here and I had to perform. It was as simple as that."

Two years ago an appointment of 224 balls with nine boundaries would have been laughed off as dull. Clarke's Test career exploded at Bangalore when his 151 on debut contained 18 fours and four sixes, and on his almost-as-spectacular home bow he scattered 21 fours and a six around the Gabba for 141. As the bowlers became more aware of Clarke the chances for full follow-throughs diminished. He went searching for runs and was found to be fallible.

At Lord's in 2005 he self-destructed on 91 and on returning home was soon out of the Test team. A year later the talk of tightening his technique and the training to make it possible produced a performance that will be recalled for his focus and ability to withstand tight fields and bowling.

"The 90s happened pretty quickly," he said. "There was a point between 75 and 85 where I felt a bit bogged down." A couple of cover-driven boundaries and some flicks off James Anderson took him to 99 and he waited another over to take a single in front of point.

In the two overs before bringing up three figures his forearm started to cramp and his thumb was stuck to the bat handle. The inconvenience was ignored until he raised the hundred - his thumb then got caught in his helmet - and the pain quickly eased. He insisted it had nothing to do with looking at the tattoo, which is mostly covered by a sweat band when he bats.

During his previous two century celebrations Clarke had acted with the vibrant enthusiasm of a teenager, but today he behaved like a satisfied adult. At 25 he has settled into cricketing middle age and if Watson is fit he must edge out one of his senior team-mates, probably Damien Martyn, for the next Test.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo