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Michael Clarke's battling century in this game was a world apart from his glorious counter-attacking 2011 Newlands ton, and he will hope the result of the match has a similar disparity
March 2, 2014
Cullinan: Both captains would take a draw
Rain and wind buffeted Newlands on day two, almost as savagely as Morne Morkel had rounded on Michael Clarke 24 hours before, under sunny skies and the gaze of Table Mountain. Both the ground staff and Clarke were made to look decidedly uncomfortable, whether it was the former hanging on desperately to errant covers or the latter reeling from blows to the head. But neither were swept away either, holding on to secure the preservation of the pitch and the establishment of a total that virtually inures Australia from series defeat.
By the time the weather forced him indoors, Clarke had soared to an unbeaten 161, which given his desire to pursue a Test match and series victory in the time remaining may not progress too much further. It was a performance of rare courage and wonderful depth, its layered construction containing a series of compelling chapters in the traditions of great literature. If not quite so visceral as his repelling of Morkel's assault, Clarke's 24-ball vigil on 99 was another passage to savour, ending fittingly with a crisp cover drive and a bat raised in weary, even groggy triumph towards the dressing room.
Clarke had played a very similar stroke on this ground in November 2011 to reach his other century at Newlands, the spiky, counter-punching 151 that provided one of the first indications that the captaincy would serve to grow him considerably as a batsman. Before this match, Clarke regarded it as his finest Test hundred, taking into account a sporty pitch, overcast skies and a South African bowling attack even stronger than the one he faced this time - a fully fit Dale Steyn the difference. He had received a few blows that day too, before pouncing on the bowling.
But there was a hollowness to that innings, a sense of empty achievement provided by the fact that when Australia batted a second time they were rounded up for a measly 47. Clarke was still ruing that innings, and his inability to hold back the raging tide himself, when he spoke about it a year later, ahead of the home series with South Africa in late 2012. Cape Town had come to mean something bitter to Clarke, despite his personal achievement.
"Personally I think it's probably the best hundred I've made for Australia," Clarke said at the time. "I needed to make runs for the team, they had a very good fast bowling attack in conditions that suited fast bowling, and while I managed to get through my first 10 balls I think I got hit in the head three or four times, hit in the gloves another six times or so, and I managed to turn that around and score some runs.
"But when I say that I think it's my best Test hundred, it's one of the most irrelevant Test hundreds because of how the game panned out. I was very disappointed in the second innings, I didn't make many runs. I'd just scored 150 so I was the one player who was in form and I needed to make runs in that second innings."
If he had used his bat like a rapier in the first innings of 2011, there was considerably less swash in Clarke's buckle when he walked out to bat at Newlands this time around. A lack of runs in the lead-up had been getting to him more than he would admit publicly. It was telling to hear Shane Warne speak of Clarke as a "worrier" ahead of the Test, and to say he had spent much of their dinner together reminding Australia's captain of the progress made by the team even though their leader had not been raising the personal tallies he expected.
While David Warner's supremely confident century and a pair of top-order partnerships had cushioned Clarke from the new ball, and Steyn's tender hamstring reduced the firepower of his opponents, the sense of personal expectation, the series scenario and the threat of Morkel all weighed heavily. Clarke did not shirk the fact that he would be battered by Morkel, nor that he would look ugly while doing so. Day one was as much about survival as scoring, and in this Clarke achieved his goal admirably while also breaking his sequence of outs.
A new morning brought gladder tidings for Clarke, facing up to bowlers tired by earlier exertions and also handicapped by a sharp cross-breeze to rival anything at the WACA Ground in Perth. But he had one more obstacle to overcome before reaching three figures in the shape of a searching spell from Kyle Abbott, who maintained the most disciplined line to create pressure when the scoreboard indicated that there was none.
Clarke would not force a shot that was not there, South Africa's fielders became briefly tigerish where for much of the series they had been slothful, and three maiden overs ticked by. One Abbott delivery passed over Clarke's stumps by millimetres. Steve Smith, making his own mark on the match with a jaunty contribution to test the will of any bowler, kept the scoreboard moving at the other end. Ultimately, Clarke was given a sight of Vernon Philander, and creamed a drive through cover to reach 103. It was the shot most resembling those of 2011.
As two innings they could not have been much more different, and Clarke now hopes for a similar disparity in the final result. "That's probably a better question asked at the end of this game because if we don't get the result we're after then it will sit alongside the other 150," he said afterwards. "I will never, ever take for granted scoring a hundred for Australia. I've never scored an easy hundred, it's always been tough, especially against a very good attack."
For the moment, the Cape Town of Clarke's mind is one of clouds, rain and a hellish result, the kind that will always haunt him. But his century has opened up the possibility of Australia achieving a victory as glorious as the vista seen when the clouds roll away. Should it be done, Clarke will not look more fondly upon a single innings. The Cape Town Test of 2014 will allow the 2011 version to be forgotten.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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