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At his peak, Clarke gives master class

If there is a cricket ground that could contain Michael Clarke right now, it is not the economy-sized Adelaide Oval and its welcome mat of a pitch. If there is an attack that could limit him, it is not this South African set, made threadbare by injury and left to cower before his broad and tireless blade.

There is, of course, a record book that can confine him, but it will take much re-writing. Here's a start: no-one previously has made four 200-plus scores in a calendar year, and only once has Australia made more runs in a single Test day.

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Clarke leaves South Africa struggling

Australia captain Michael Clarke put in a record-breaking performance on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa.

So wholly did Clarke again tower over an extraordinarily replete day that he made a distant, if thrilling memory of Dave Warner's run-a-ball century in the morning and - for the second time in two innings - overshadowed Mike Hussey's crisp-hit hundred in the sun-kissed afternoon.

Well, almost. The ball after Clarke raised his second consecutive double-century, Hussey brought up his second century in a row by smiting hapless leg-spinner Imran Tahir into the construction zone at mid-wicket where, aptly, it came to rest among some reinforcing. It was not so much an upstaging as a joint staging.

This was a day of two halves, both belonging to Australia, the rout that was the second made inexorable by the vigour and impudence of the first. Against half an attack, in half a ground, Australia in the morning played half-and-half cricket, Test20 if you like. Four for 210 in half a day wasn't half bad for entertainment, and a half-day of Warner and his blunderbuss will always be as his name suggests, Warne-plus-a-bit. Imagine the day Australia boasts a player called Warnest.

But the battle was only half-won. Another wicket then might have led to a toppling, for Australia is like the Adelaide Oval, still rebuilding and waiting for the footings to set. Blessedly for Australia there was a constant in Clarke, its constant since he was appointed captain of Australia to universal lack of acclaim 15 months ago.


Clarke's figures tell their own epic tale, yet tell only a part. In Australia's 25 Test innings in the Clarke era, only 10 times has it reached 100 less than three wickets down. Following what seems always to be an experimental top order, there nearly always is work to be done. Some will say this argues for his elevation; I reckon it means leaving well alone. Updating the old cliche, Clarke is playing a captain's career.

Thursday was another classic of the genre. Australia (read Warner) began boldly, but suddenly was 3/55. Ed Cowan and Ricky Ponting were felled - literally - by crafty Kallis outswingers, and Rob Quiney's misfortune was to hit what others missed from Morkel in these preliminaries. Alarm rather than cathedral bells rang, muted only by the immediate laming of Kallis.

Clarke's first scoring shot was a tutorial. Moving back to Kallis, he left his stroke so late that wicketkeeper and slips instinctively threw their arms into the air, anticipating bowled or lbw. Instead, the ball skittered away to fine leg for four. A couple of hours later, the much-beset Tahir was half-way through a jubilant leap as he surely was about to skittle Clarke's stumps, only to see his blade intersect and send the ball to the backward point fence. So was another hundred duly raised.

In Brisbane, much was rightly made of Clarke's driving on the rise. Again yesterday, it was plentifully evident, a barging shot, like a Mark Latham handshake, but more subtle. More or less this way, he thumped Morne Morkel for five fours in an over, so reaching 150 in a single Superman bound.

Clarke played in all modes and moods, at first as foil to Warner, then following his cue. Able on this true pitch to meet the ball almost prematurely early or posthumously late, adjusting ball by ball, Clarke left the South African bowlers with no margin for error.

Not least of Clarke's virtues as a batsman is that he is indefatigable. Even as the boundaries flowed in the shadow of stumps, he was alert for punctuating singles. At stumps, three South Africans picked up weary legs to go to him with outstretched hands.

By then, it could be truly said that everyone at the Adelaide Oval was in every way on the one side.