Michael Clarke of Australia bats during the third test match between South Africa and Australia. Photo: Morne de Klerk
Former South African champion fast-bowler Allan Donald has hailed the courage of Michael Clarke for withstanding a fearsome battering by paceman Morne Morkel on the first day of the Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
Clarke was on the receiving end of a barrage of short-pitched deliveries from one of the most intimidating bowlers in the world.
He survived, although not without a battering, and his courageous performance led Australia to a dominating position at the end of the first day of the series-ending Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
At stumps, Australia was 3-331 after 88 overs at Newlands, with captain Clarke on 92 from 181 balls and Steve Smith unbeaten on 50, as part of a partnership that has so far produced 114 for the visitors' fourth wicket.
South Africa's bowling coach Donald, who was nicknamed "White Lightning" during his career, said towering Proteas paceman Morkel had deserved multiple wickets, but cited the stoicism of Clarke, which complemented a dazzling 135 from opener David Warner, as a key reason Morkel ended wicketless after the first day and Australia's captain was still at the crease.
"I thought Warner was outstanding, and Michael Clarke showed a lot of guts," Donald said.
"He really did front-up today as a captain of this team and he took a lot of blows for his team today. But he's still there and still battling it out," Donald said. "I thought it was a very gutsy performance from the skipper.
"The way Morne bowled today he was worth 2-3 wickets - he deserved better. But it was a great piece of theatre to see how he was roughing-up the captain of Australia. Fair dues, he [Clarke] hung in there for his team. It was a good knock."
Australian spin great Shane Warne, on a short-term consultancy with the national team, said his close friend Clarke had "been hit in the ear, jaw, head, arm, fingers" but had been more preoccupied with not conceding his wicket.
"Obviously Morne was bowling a pretty hostile spell. Six-foot-eight on an up-and-down wicket, some were flying through and the next one wouldn't get up," Warne said.
"It would have been easy [for Clarke] to play a shot to try and stop that, but I thought he hung in there . . . like he just said: 'You know what, over my dead body - you're going to have to keep hitting me until I can't stand up'.
"I thought it showed a lot of courage in that situation . . . of the game and the series. To then stand up to that fantastic spell of bowling form Morne Morkel was wonderful. Then to be not-out at the end it put Australia into a very good position, which was started off with 'Davey' Warner."
Warne said the performance of Australia, helped by 50-plus partnership from each pairing, ranked among the best day-one batting performances he had seen by an Australian team playing overseas.
"South Africa are the number-one side in the world and you've just copped a hiding in the last Test where South Africa outplayed you in all departments. You've won a very good toss on a good wicket. If you batted poorly today, you're nearly losing the Test match given the conditions," Warne said. "If Australia can score a big first-innings total then they're in a really good position, because we know it's going to reverse, it's going to spin and it's going to get even more up-and-down. It's going to be very hard to bat last on."
The praise Donald had for Clarke was complemented by praise for Warner, despite the brash Australian opener having riled the Proteas during the week with claims their players had tampered with the ball in Port Elizabeth.
"Australia did come out and play with a lot of intent and bad balls were put away. There's no easy deliveries, or when you get onto Warner – the controversy that he into the Test match with, I thought the statement that he made today was pretty good. He played very, very well," Donald said.
"That's just the way he plays – he's got a very simple mindset. There's no mucking around with what Warner does and you know what you're going to get.
"It's a bit like me bowling to Brian Lara – you know that he was going to come at you but he's also going to give you chances. I think he's balanced his batting well, with a mix of aggression, good running between wickets. But you always know he's going to give you a couple of chances along the way. But overall I thought he played really well."
South Africa was unable to call on Dale Steyn for the second half of the day due to a suspected hamstring strain to his right leg. While the Proteas are hopeful Steyn will pass a fitness test before day two Donald acknowledged its other three specialist fast-bowlers will have to collectively fill the void if Steyn was unable to recover in time.
"If you lose your gun bowler, which is Dale Steyn, then the rest are going to have to step up. We've done that on numerous occasions," Donald said.
"Tomorrow is another massive day, A lot of questions have been asked of us in the past and now. The way we bowled in Port Elizabeth is nothing different to what we have to do tomorrow."