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November 9, 2011
Australia 214 for 8 (Clarke 107*, Marsh 44, Steyn 4-31, Philander 3-54) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia's captain Michael Clarke conjured an innings of the highest quality against a fiery South Africa attack, but he had too little help as the visitors limped to 214 for 8 on a rain-affected day one of the first Test at Newlands.
Aided by an extremely lively pitch that had Graeme Smith sending Australia in to bat, Dale Steyn swung the ball menacingly at high pace and Vernon Philander seamed it extravagantly on debut, forcing Clarke to summon all his technical resources to cover for the loss of three early wickets.
His first few balls aside, Clarke was fluency itself in conditions that made free strokeplay extremely risky, if not outright dangerous, yet such was the captain's touch that he never seemed in undue haste despite reaching his hundred in a mere 108 balls. It was his second century in as many Test innings.
As a counter-attacking performance Clarke's recalled nothing less than Steve Waugh's first-day century against England at Old Trafford in 1997, made on a seaming, swinging surface that would later deteriorate. There was enough uneven bounce on day one in Cape Town to suggest this strip might be of similar character.
Shaun Marsh provided the only notable support with an obstinate 44 in a stand of 103, and Australia may already owe much to the pair, for many in the tourists' dressing room could recall being razed for 98 on a similarly dicey MCG surface in the Boxing Day Ashes Test.
Shane Watson was the first to go, Phillip Hughes' dismissal gave Philander his first wicket and Mark Boucher his 500th catch in Test cricket, and Ricky Ponting was lbw to Steyn on referral the fourth ball after lunch. The lower order was similarly tender prey after Marsh and Clarke were parted on the stroke of tea.
The hosts had included Philander's muscular seam bowling at the expense of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, and recalled Jacques Rudolph for his first Test match since 2006, to open the batting with Smith.
Australia were able to recall the fit-again Ryan Harris for Trent Copeland in the only change to the team that secured a 1-0 series win in Sri Lanka with a drawn third Test in Colombo.
Having waited 305 days for a Test match, the hosts cooled their heels for another 1 hour, 45 minutes until play could begin due to rain, then another five while a sight screen problem - ludicrous at the start of a match - was addressed.
Watson made a handful of bold decisions to leave deliveries that seamed back over his wicket, but had no chance in the fifth over against a Steyn offering that swung and seamed from middle and leg to turn him front on and draw an edge to second slip.
Marsh's first ball in a Test match in South Africa struck him a blow on the forearm, and next over Hughes snicked a well-pitched Philander delivery that seamed across him and was gleefully accepted by Boucher for his milestone snare.
Having demonstrated a knack for shouldering arms intelligently in his first series, Marsh's powers of self-denial were fully tested as the ball continued to deviate.
At the other end Philander chanced a short ball to Ponting early and was soon regretting it as a soaring pull shot brought six runs behind square leg. Fuller deliveries were more inconvenient, and Morne Morkel's introduction to the attack brought another level of discomfort to the batsmen, his 196cm frame generating bounce as well as movement.
Marsh leant into one princely cover drive as the skies brightened in the final over of the session, but then had to call for the physio when struck an eye-watering blow amidships before lunch could be taken.
Spectators had scarcely settled in their seats on resumption when Steyn whirred a delivery into Ponting's pads, although confusion about whether the bat had struck ball or boot caused a somewhat muted appeal from the bowler. Graeme Smith called for the aid of technology, which found the ball going on to spread-eagle middle and leg, and Ponting departed for just eight. Clarke arrived at 40 for 3.
Steyn was immediately testing out Clarke's technique, physique and courage, touching 150kph and troubling his target more than once with the short ball as the captain declined to duck. But Clarke endured, helped by Marsh, and slowly the batsmen wrested some control as the bowlers lost a little of their earlier pep.
A Clarke straight drive from Steyn was perhaps the shot of the session, but there were also some swivel pull strokes, meaty cuts and fleet-footed flicks to the legspin of the other local debutant Imran Tahir. Marsh eluded one concerted lbw appeal from Philander, but also found the sweetest of timing to flick the same bowler past midwicket near the tea interval.
Marsh did not survive to the refreshments, pinned in front of middle by Steyn's swerve in the last over before tea, and Michael Hussey was given enough idea of the struggle ahead in five balls to the break. He could not survive for long after it, touching a Morkel delivery that nipped sharply back at him, exposing the wicketkeeper and tail.
Brad Haddin's innings was reminiscent of late-period Rod Marsh: a few lusty swings, more plays and misses, and a damagingly swift exit, as Steyn's swing exposed flat feet and firm hands for a slice into the gully.
Mitchell Johnson offered a similar approach with a little more success, and was on hand when Clarke reached three figures with a drive off Jacques Kallis as glorious as any he had struck. Clarke let out a roar as the field was pierced, aware of how much these runs meant, to his team but also to his youthful captaincy - on innings of this sort are reputations built.
Johnson and Harris departed to abortive hook shots as the clouds and rain brought an early finish, leaving Clarke to accept the deserved applause of the crowd while he pondered whether his team had made enough runs in the circumstances.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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