Mature Clarke seals satisfying century
Australia 316 for 4 (Clarke 100*, Katich 79, North 52*) v New Zealand
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Michael Clarke has had to display a lot of patience over the past fortnight and he applied an unflappable, measured approach as his century steered Australia into a strong position. Clarke showed no lasting effects from the break-up of his engagement, which forced him home to Sydney last week, as he paced his innings perfectly.
His timing was so good he brought up his hundred in the last over of the day as he swung his side to 316 for 4. Clarke entered with Australia at a sticky 115 for 3 and locked down with Simon Katich, whose responsible 79 was also crucial against a disciplined local attack.
Only 70 runs came in 28 overs between lunch and tea as the tourists were restricted and Clarke needed 32 deliveries for his first two singles. However, once Marcus North, who helped confirm his spot at No.6 with 52, was set in the final session, Clarke started to accelerate and quickly undid the excellent work of the hosts.
The speed at which Clarke improved the situation from delicate to in control was impressive. For a couple of hours he had defended and clipped, playing a nice cut for four off Daryl Tuffey, but also being struck in the helmet attempting a pull off Chris Martin. His first sign of intent came when he charged at Daniel Vettori and lifted him for six to long-on, part of his collection of 91 in the last session.
Four overs later, having added three fours and launched Vettori over the sightscreen, he was 68 and Australia were suddenly purring. The second new ball came and Clarke continued to find the boundary, with two fours off Brent Arnel taking him to 98 with a dozen balls remaining.
The century came with a tight single from the first ball of the last over and he ran with his bat in the air as he accepted the applause. At stumps he was 100, with 10 fours and two sixes from his 142 balls, and had proved his ability to cope under an extreme spotlight.
The upbeat partnership with North of 140 at almost five an over sent the day Australia's way. After a few worrying early moments, North gained confidence and was also batting more freely than at any time this year.
His place is under pressure from Steven Smith, the batsman-legspinner, but if he goes on the spot will be his until he has to negotiate his next elongated slump. A straight drive for four from Arnel steadied him and he felt more comfortable after swiping Vettori for six over midwicket. The contribution allowed all of the tourists to relax.
Australia knew life against New Zealand was going to be harder than their home summer of success and they were forced to battle for much of the day. Life was tough before lunch when the pitch was offering more help, but Arnel's first wicket, which came from his fifth ball on debut, was the only break though. However, when Australia lost Ricky Ponting to a run-out on 41 and Michael Hussey (4) to a sharp catch from BJ Watling there was some concern.
Katich, Australia's ideal man for the difficult situation, was less inclined to chase boundaries than his team-mates, although he eventually forced himself to become more adventurous to Vettori. A hook behind square off Arnel brought up his half-century and he slog-swept Vettori for an awkward six, but mostly he nudged, chipped and glanced.
His reward was a 191-ball stay that gave him more batting time but not a century. While New Zealand missed him twice in the lead-up to tea, Katich did not last long after the break and was lbw shuffling across the crease to Arnel, who was operating around the wicket.
Arnel, a 31-year-old right armer, was brought in for his debut in a four-man seam attack and he delivered a tricky opening spell of seven overs. He picked up a slashing Phillip Hughes (20), who did not take advantage of Shane Watson's hip injury, and showed his pace and movement was worthy of a promotion. Arnel's first Test day ended in figures of 2 for 70 but he and his team-mates were disappointed to have let Australia off.
The ball swung throughout to disrupt the batsmen's rhythm and Martin was a problem when he curled it into the right-handers and away from the lefties. It was a delivery across Hussey that resulted in his fatal edge and he returned 1 for 63.
New Zealand's major problem was they couldn't sustain the effort until the end. Vettori was attacked before the second new ball was taken but Tuffey, who gave up 13 runs from his first 11 overs, regained some control to finish with 0 for 35 from 15. Despite their commitment, Clarke's brilliant burst left them with ground to recover.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo