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May 31, 2008
Two months away from cricket attending to family matters has clearly not dulled Michael Clarke's focus on the game. Australia's new vice-captain made a fluent and emotional century before striking twice with the ball late in the day to further tighten Australia's grip on the Frank Worrell Trophy. At stumps West Indies were 125 for 3, with Ramnaresh Sarwan on 32 and Shivnarine Chanderpaul on 5, and needed a further 155 to avoid the follow-on.
They were fighting well on a dull pitch until Clarke's breakthroughs, including the key wicket of Xavier Marshall, who inexplicably left a ball on off stump and was lbw for 53. Marshall provided them with their major glimmer of hope, which was a surprise given that his two previous Tests came in Sri Lanka in 2005 and he has been in and out of Jamaica's side since then. He does not even have a first-class century but that did not faze him as he cover-drove Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson with precision and power.
He lost his opening partner Devon Smith, who cut a short, wide Johnson ball straight to Andrew Symonds at point, but Marshall carried on with confidence until his sudden lapse in judgment. Runako Morton followed in the same over, caught at midwicket when he impatiently tried to belt Clarke over the infield from his fifth ball, and the success of Australia's part-time spinner was a relief for Ricky Ponting. Stuart MacGill continued to send down long hops and full tosses.
Perhaps Clarke was simply in the zone after his positive batting. It was an impressive effort considering he has played no serious cricket since the Australian domestic season finished in March. While many of his colleagues headed off to the Indian Premier League, he stayed home to spend time with his ill father and when the rest of the squad was warming up in the Caribbean, he was helping his fiancée after the death of her dad. The innings was clearly special for Clarke, who brought up his seventh Test hundred with a super on-drive for four off Daren Powell, then raised his bat and helmet towards the sky and smiled contentedly before wiping away a few tears.
He had spent nearly ten overs in the 90s, which was a major dip in a free-flowing innings full of punishing drives and fantastic running between the wickets. He was able to cut and clip through leg confidently but his work off the front foot was truly exquisite. Clarke found gaps where there appeared to be none and his timing was perfect. It was tough to determine which of his awesome cover-drives was his best stroke, but one that pierced a miniscule space between the extra cover and the short extra cover and flew to the boundary off Powell was particularly brilliant.
He turned decent balls into half-volleys by batting well out of his crease and West Indies were at a loss as to how they could remove him. They had a chance when he was dropped by Denesh Ramdin down the leg side on 63, and he finally fell on 110 when he top edged an attempted pull off Powell that lobbed to midwicket.
Clarke had plenty of support, initially in a 64-run stand with Brad Haddin, who felt free to play his naturally aggressive game with such a solid platform already built by the top order. Haddin tried to keep up with Clarke and was more willing than his partner to pull and hit over the top, but he fell for 33 when he prodded a Taylor slower ball to Morton at mid-on.
Lee was then able to add 54 with Clarke despite looking desperately out of touch, finding thick inside edges when he tried to drive and struggling against the short stuff from Taylor. After Clarke departed Lee started to find his form and some meaty blows from him and Johnson pushed the total up to a daunting 479. When Lee brought up his half-century with a slogged six over midwicket off Darren Sammy, West Indies appeared to have given up on bowling Australia out and were waiting for Ponting to call his batsmen in.
The declaration finally came at tea, leaving Lee unbeaten on 63 and one short of his highest Test score, and ending a tough day in the field for Sarwan. He wasn't given the option of a frontline spinner and had to rotate his three fast and two medium-pace bowlers on a surface that brought them only seven wickets in five sessions.
The morning had started well when they stopped Simon Katich, who tickled a leg-side catch behind off Jerome Taylor, adding to his overnight 113. Then Symonds went in similar fashion - he tried to turn Fidel Edwards off his hip - and West Indies might have thought it would be their day. A refreshed and rejuvenated Clarke ensured that it wasn't.