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Peter English at Edgbaston
August 3, 2009
Michael Clarke, the flashy millionaire who grew up playing all the shots, fine-tuned his working-class values to secure a relieving draw for Australia. Clarke has become Australia's most reliable batsman, stepping up when Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have wobbled, and in partnership with Marcus North ensured the tourists head to Yorkshire with a chance to level the series.
Given how they have been outplayed in the past two Tests, Australia will have to be at their best to hold the urn at The Oval later in the month, but Clarke and North kept the team breathing for at least another week. It was the first time Clarke had battled successfully to save a Test, doing it with calm assurance, tight defence and a straight bat. This might have happened before, but Clarke has not had many opportunities to shield his team in such a situation over 50 matches.
Three times against India he has stayed for long periods in the last innings, but on each occasion Australia were too far out of reach, both in time and in target, and losses ensued. It was the same at Lord's two weeks ago when his delightful 136 delayed England's convincing victory. He took little public comfort in the display but in his room would have been satisfied with his individual brilliance.
He is aspirational, well off and well marketed, traits which can lead to accusations of being distant and distracted. As vice-captain, his on-field characteristics have been recognised by the hierarchy and there was no drift in focus on the final day, no thinking of cocktail parties while still at the office.
Australia weren't safe until deep into the second session and Clarke made sure he stayed till the end with another composed century. "It's good," he said. "It was a bit disappointing when I got out at Lord's, so to be there at the end, I'm pretty happy with that."
In consecutive matches he has fought to inspire a team that should become his whenever Ponting decides he has had - or done - enough. Clarke batted like a leader today, waiting, watching, nudging and pushing. Tested by Graeme Swann's spin, he swept a fierce boundary, but when he looked for runs it was mostly in front of the wicket.
It is a shame not to see him hitting over cover, like he did when he arrived with a flash of cheeky smiles in 2004, but his driving along the ground is also pretty special. It is a trade he has made to succeed long term, both in normal conditions and the swinging ones which are causing problems for his mates.
He will start the fourth Test as the side's leading run-scorer in the series, having taken 352 at 88.00, 104 more than Simon Katich. If he checks his player profile this week he will also see his career average has gone above 50, the mark of a great, for the first time since 2004. By posting 83, 1, 136, 29 and 103 not out, he has displayed the most in-tune attitude of the spluttering outfit.
When North, who started accelerating late in the day with some rural swings, fell on 96, slashing a catch to James Anderson who dived spectacularly in the gully, Clarke dropped his head. In a previous life he gave up starts, threw away hundreds and rued the misses. His main mistake today came on 38 when he pulled one of Ravi Bopara's meek mediums to Andrew Strauss at midwicket and watched the captain drop it.
With the result secure and the only thing of interest left his impending century, Clarke did lose some intensity. He had his off stump tickled by Stuart Broad on 92 without the bail toppling and he edged a Bopara no-ball to slip. "When it's your day, it's your day," he said.
He remained until the sides shook hands for the stalemate after raising his 12th Test century. "I did ask when he was on 96 if he wanted to go off and quite surprisingly he said no," Strauss said. "We just had to wait." An eased three to midwicket took Clarke to 99 and the hundred arrived with a pull behind square off Bopara.
Until now his heaviest contribution in the latter stages of a Test draw was 39 at Old Trafford, the day when Ponting's masterful 156 speed-bumped England's Ashes surge. Back then Ponting couldn't lift his side for more than a day and they lost the next match at Trent Bridge. The less sparkly version of Clarke will attempt to do better at Headingley from Friday.
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