Clarke guts earns Warne praise
Michael Clarke and Shane Warne are two of the world's more vocal advocates of aggressive, vibrant cricket. But on day one at Newlands, Clarke chose guts over flair, earning Warne's rich praise for the kind of brave occupation on which Test series victories are won.
After taking a fearful battering from Morne Morkel, the toll of which on Warne's count was "four or five" ice packs in the dressing room, Clarke steadied to reach 92 not out, ending a run of slim scores that dated back to the second Ashes Test during the home summer and placing his team in a fine position to press for a Test match and series victory over South Africa.
"I think there was four, maybe five ice packs so I think he'll be stiff and sore tonight," Warne said of Clarke. "I think he might be drinking chocolate milkshakes because his jaw might be a bit sore too. He's in a bit of pain, a bit of agony, you cop four or five blows like that, it's going to hurt at 150kph.
"I'm very proud of Michael today, it was great to see him show that courage. There's been a bit of talk about him not making some runs so it would've been easy for him at that stage when your eyes are spinning and you're getting hit like that to try and say 'I'm going to hit my way out of this and take them on'. He went the other way, hung in there and showed a lot of courage. At the end of the day he played like we know he can."
Warne observed that Morkel's spell in mid-afternoon was made doubly threatening by early evidence of inconsistent bounce, a partial explanation for the blows Clarke sustained. But that also meant that Australia's stumps score of 331 for 3 has already taken on critical dimensions for the hosts, who may have lost Dale Steyn to a hamstring strain.
"I thought Morne was bowling a pretty hostile spell, up and down wicket, some were flying through and the next one wouldn't get up. Been hit in the ear, jaw, head, fingers. So it would have been easy to play a shot to try to stop that, but he hung in," Warne said. "It looks like he said 'you know what? Over my dead body, you have to keep hitting me if you want until I can't stand up'. He showed a lot of courage in that situation given 1-1 in the series to then stand up to that fantastic spell from Morne was wonderful and then be not out at the end, had Australia in a very good position.
"There's a lot at stake, South Africa are No. 1 in the world, you've just copped a hiding and been outplayed in all departments, you've won a very good toss on a good wicket. If you batted poorly today you've nearly lost the Test match on those conditions because it's going to get a lot worse, it will go up and down and spin. If Australia can score a good first innings they'll be in a really good position."
Warne expressed some surprise at South Africa's reluctance to play a spinner in this match, reckoning that Australia might have played two themselves if another had been selected in the Test squad to accompany Nathan Lyon. He also indicated that Mitchell Johnson was eager to try his luck at exploiting the variable bounce Morkel had extracted.
"On that pitch it was so dry and would have been ready yesterday, I think the spinner's going to play a role," Warne said. "South Africa obviously back their quickies and think Duminy and the left-armer [Dean Elgar] can do a job on that pitch. But I think if Australia had a couple of spinners they might have played them as well, given Shane Watson was available too. Seeing how dry it was we saw it as a definite turner."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here