Clarke comes of age
As the blond tips of Australia's golden boy were threatening to lose their gloss, Michael Clarke added a brilliant dose of fresh colour to ride spectacularly out of a rough patch. Clarke's Test name was made in his first two months late last year, and since then he's been desperately striving to remember the necessary combination to fulfill Pacific Ocean-sized expectations.
It took Clarke an extra 24 hours, but Lord's assisted in ending a growing-pain period of dormancy. On a day when most of the Australian batsmen traded in their helmet-raising Thursday on the motorway for a Friday in city traffic, Clarke avoided the congestion with the worry-free attitude and free-swinging that makes spectators forget about their drinks. While Damien Martyn, that most graceful of batsmen, fought over 138 balls for 65, Clarke clipped 15 boundaries in his 91 from 106 deliveries.
Players on both sides are unknowingly battling for cross hemisphere respect from people they will never meet. Shivering Australians under blankets can't believe Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles have blossomed, while England has heard about Clarke but only experienced him in slumps. After today, the drooling over a 23-year-old can occur in unison.
Before Clarke arrived the top four had adopted a more patient method and, despite an expanding lead, found runs a struggle. From his third ball Clarke flicked a four sweetly through midwicket and was away. Steve Waugh believed in the huge boost of a well-hit early boundary and in a flash Clarke was forgetting a streak of 128 runs in his seven previous Tests and 11 in the first innings.
Playing the ball late, his feet started to twinkle and 11 runs danced from a Hoggard over. While his team-mates had shuffled, Clarke was striding when Kevin Pietersen missed a simple chance at cover on 21 - his third spill of the game. Tea came and went - so did Giles over mid-on, enhancing the grey streaks against his opponent's bottle - and the pace quickened. The lead passed 200.
Confidence improving with every boundary, Clarke's run-calling grew louder and after swiping Giles across the line to bring up his half-century he produced a thank you to a dressing room that had cradled its hyperactive younger brother through snicks and misses. While the brash young face remained, the gesture showed maturity earned in recent walks through the valleys.
What had been an aggressively calm innings transformed into a brilliant battering of boundaries that could have been replayed from his debut century in India or his maiden home hundred against New Zealand. His pulling had the power Matthew Hayden craved at the start of the innings; the quick, balanced footwork was the earlier target of Ricky Ponting, who carried eight stitches in his cheek after his day-one brush with Steve Harmison. The Clarke-effect caused fielding fumbles, a loss of line and Australian television pundits to mock the "same old England".
With the field spreading as freely as his arms, Clarke was preparing to draw pen from pocket and scribble his name on the visitors' honour board for century-makers. Perhaps Hoggard deserved more respect but Clarke, who had already sent him for some crunching boundaries, decided on a big drive and the inside edge rebounded from foot to stumps.
Head down, he trudged back through the Long Room knowing it would be at least four years before he could make a permanent mark in the pavilion. Instead he had to be content with shining on a memorable Ashes debut that proved he was worth the global promotion.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo