India v Australia, 3rd Test, Delhi, 4th day November 1, 2008

Responsible Clarke just what Australia needed

Ali Cook
There was only one thing the team needed from Clarke on the fourth day - a match-saving century - and unless there is a shocking collapse late on Sunday he has delivered

Michael Clarke had some lucky escapes but produced a crucial century © AFP

Michael Clarke is at his most watchable when he is flashing drives and lofting the ball, but it is an innings like this one at Delhi that confirms his status as Australia's next captain. There was only one thing the team needed from Clarke on the fourth day - a match-saving century - and unless there is a shocking collapse late on Sunday he has delivered. He is now so confident he thinks Australia might even be able to steal a win.

At times he was lucky, solid, nervous and gritty, but Clarke avoided all the obstacles to register his eighth Test century at a crucial moment. When he finally reached three figures with a cut for two off Virender Sehwag, Clarke swayed his bat in relief. It had been a taxing day that had started in uncertainty and ended in fulfillment.

Four years ago Clarke arrived in a flurry of stunning shots and the cricket world was amazed by the sparkles during his 151 on debut. Since then he has journeyed in and out of the side, become vice-captain and assumed responsibility not only for his own performances, but for the welfare of his team-mates.

Occasional rashness remains in his batting and his bright start in the second innings in Bangalore last month ended on 6 when he aimed a firm drive and found cover. Since then he has been more attuned to resisting extravagant urges - although he was fortunate not to be punished for three mistakes on Saturday - and was the most settled of Australia's batsmen in registering 69 to reduce the huge losing margin in Mohali.

A week late in Delhi and Clarke did what his more experienced team-mates could not by getting a century. Dropped by Ishant Sharma before adding to his overnight 21, he battled with his defence, escaped the strike with nudges and occasionally went down the pitch to lift the spinners. Not until he entered the 90s, a stage where he has faltered a couple of times, did the old feelings return.

He top-edged a sweep off Sehwag on 90 and had started to leave for the dressing room when VVS Laxman dropped it. Four runs later he attempted a similar shot and was relieved to see Amit Mishra's miss at deep midwicket. "I was very lucky today, especially in the 90s," Clarke said. "Without doubt, it certainly helped."

After being dismissed for 112 trying to hit Mishra for six over long-on, Clarke watched as Australia scraped to 577, 36 behind India's first innings. "All the boys played well," Clarke said. "We knew with 600 on the board we would have to bat well to put us in a position to win. For me, personally, it's very rewarding."

By the end of the day, when the visitors had removed Sehwag and the nightwatchman Ishant, Clarke was so pleased with the recovery he was looking at an unlikely, series-levelling victory. "I think we can bowl them out tomorrow," he said. "India won't set us a target, they showed that by sending out a nightwatchman tonight."

He dreamed of a repeat of the 2006-07 Adelaide Test when Australia upended England on the final day to win by six wickets. "I hope so," he said. "We've seen this evening what India's thoughts are, sending a nightwatchman out. They are pretty defensive.

"Australia will certainly be the one team out there trying to win the game. We will try and take a couple of wickets early and whatever we have to chase with the bat, we can get those. We will be attacking." Having thoughtfully got his team into position, Clarke will be ready to return to his youthful ways if the bowlers follow his plan.