At Brisbane, November 9-13, 2012. Drawn. Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: R. J. Quiney; R. K. Kleinveldt.
Rain that fell for one day, and a pitch that stayed slow for five, condemned the first Test to incompletion after South African, then Australian, batsmen enjoyed themselves - although a late thrust by the hosts pushed the game into the last hour, and the cycle of events drew in the best crowds seen at a Gabba Test outside the Ashes. Five individual centuries were compiled (and five conceded by bowlers), and Clarke, the Man of the Match, stayed the longest and made the most, not offering a chance in an unbeaten 259.
It was the highest individual Test score at the ground, passing Alastair Cook's undefeated 235 for England two years earlier, and the first Australian double-century at Brisbane since Greg Chappell made 201 against Pakistan in 1981-82. New caps were given to Rob Quiney and Rory Kleinveldt, though neither had matches to remember.
With only one warm-up match, on a very different pitch at Sydney, the South Africans began a little rustily after winning the toss but, by the afternoon, the Australians were looking rustier still. As so often, it was Amla and Kallis who secured South Africa's ramparts, with their 11th century stand in Tests after Petersen had squandered a solid start by holing out to mid-on. Amla, who passed 5,000 Test runs, offered Siddle a return catch when he was 74; Kallis miscued a pull from Siddle to mid-off when he had 43, only for the retroactive detection of a no-ball. Rarely expansive, sometimes subdued, especially after tea, they added 165 at three an over, to become South Africa's most productive Test pairing, beating the 3,592 runs put on by Kallis himself with Gary Kirsten, now the coach.
Their circumspection was justified when Duminy, not long after stumps, strained an Achilles tendon during a fitness circuit on the outfield, reducing South Africa to ten men and depriving their attack of useful variation. The Australians regrouped while rain blanketed the second day - the first full day's washout in a Brisbane Test since 1983-84 - and their attack huffed and puffed back into calculations on the third, quickly removing the overnight batsmen, and working steadily through the remnants. Hilfenhaus remained a little below par, but Siddle and Pattinson were reformed characters, bowling to fuller lengths and at improved speeds.
Australia then lost three wickets in the first ten overs of their reply, including Ponting, pushing Morkel into the slips for a duck, before Cowan and Clarke stabilised things. In fact, Cowan belied his reputation as a quiet accumulator by scoring freely square of the wicket with cuts and pulls, and lost little in comparison with his prolific captain. Both were caught behind from Morkel no-balls - Cowan at 47, Clarke at 135 - and fended and bunted into untenanted space; one of Clarke's early boundaries sheered from the back of an upraised bat as he took evasive action. Otherwise, the sense of cohesion and composure boded well for Australia's summer.
Their partnership expanded to 259 from 75 overs on what was now the penultimate day, and was broken only by a run-out deflection from Steyn's hand. Cowan was the victim - Australia's only one on the fourth day - after extending his maiden Test hundred to an innings lasting almost six and a half hours. But, having dominated Australia's previous home season, Clarke was simply taking up where he had left off, and Hussey did likewise, achieving fluency and momentum instantly. South Africa felt the want of spin so badly that Smith bowled himself and Amla in order to spare his pace attack for the Tests ahead. Neither was a pretty sight with ball in hand, and Amla's action might have recalled Ian Meckiff's in the previous Gabba Test involving these countries, back in 1963-64; Meckiff was no-balled for chucking.
There was no respite for South Africa on the final day, as Clarke and Hussey extended their stand to 228 at five an over, timing crisply, running expertly. Hussey escaped an lbw appeal when 99 by the thinnest of edges, and became the first wicket to fall to a bowler for 120 overs, thanks to a fine catch at short cover by substitute Faf du Plessis soon after completing his 18th Test century.
But the pitch never showed enough signs of deterioration, apart from some variable bounce, to raise the serious prospect of a result. So when Clarke finally contented himself with a lead of 115, the afternoon was spent shadow boxing, with the occasional blow landing, especially during a fiery and vocal spell by Pattinson, in which Smith was beaten several times and Amla bowled - only to become the third batsman reprieved by retrospective surveillance of the front line. Apart from two overs before tea in which Lyon was clubbed for 26, the South Africans kept their noses to the grindstone.
The Australians sensed an opening when Kallis nicked Lyon to slip from round the wicket, and his backspinner accounted for Rudolph just before the last hour was due to commence, encouraging Clarke to push on. But the near-empty ground at the end reflected the sense of de´tente about the match, which left the No. 1 spot in the Test rankings to be decided over two games - hardly an ideal arrangement.
Man of the Match: M. J. Clarke.
Close of play: first day, South Africa 255-2 (Amla 90, Kallis 84); second day, no play; third day, Australia 111-3 (Cowan 49, Clarke 34); fourth day, Australia 487-4 (Clarke 218, Hussey 86).