Clarke's 88 sustains Blues
New South Wales 8 for 275 (Clarke 88, Rainbird 5-57) v Tasmania
Slowly and deliberately, like an adult trying to remember childhood lessons at the piano, Michael Clarke regathered his batting skills and touch while leading New South Wales against Tasmania in the opening Sheffield Shield match of the season at Blacktown. Helping add to his familiarity was the fact that no other batsman could stay with him for long.
Clarke's 88, from a carefully paced 190 balls, was a welcome return to the game for the Australia captain, as earlier this month he had expressed pessimism about his fitness for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. But the travails of the batsmen around him, including his likely Test match team-mates David Warner and Steve Smith, provided a reminder of why Australia's selectors have fretted over Clarke's fitness.
On the outskirts of a comeback century, Clarke flirted a little too readily with a ball angled across him by the young Tasmanian Sam Rainbird and snicked a catch for one of the left-armer's five wickets. He swished angrily at the stumps upon departure and by close, the Blues shared Clarke's frustration, having tallied only 8 for 275 on a slowish but otherwise blameless surface.
Rainbird bowled effectively for the Tigers and Ben Hilfenhaus was parsimonious after picking up the early wicket of Warner, but the stumps score reflected NSW profligacy as much as Tasmanian perseverance. Warner, Nic Maddinson, Smith and Ryan Carters all flattered to deceive in innings of unfulfilled promise.
It was left to the less heralded left-hander Scott Henry to accompany Clarke for a century stand, his diligent stay deserving of more runs but ended when he touched a Luke Butterworth delivery behind. Smith will be most frustrated by his exit, lacing a pull shot straight to midwicket after breezing into the 40s.
That wicket had Clarke resolved to bat the remainder of the day, but Rainbird ultimately tempted him into a shot best not played. It can be expected that more time at the crease will allow Clarke to build up his reserves of patience and judgment as well as physical readiness for the Gabba.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here