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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.

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If there is a cricket ground that could contain Michael Clarke right now, it is not the economy-size 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 this day 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 rewriting. 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.

So wholly did Clarke again tower over this 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 and 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.

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Familiar sight ... Michael Clarke celebrates after reaching the century mark. Photo: Getty Images

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. A score of 4-210 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, there was a constant in Clarke, its constant constant since he was appointed captain 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's game 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 Morne 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 leg before wicket. 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 exposed stumps, only to see his blade intersect and send the ball to the backward point fence. So was another hundred duly raised.

Here was the great player as late player; so often did the cordon, more than the bowler, think it had its man. But that was only an aspect of this opus. In Brisbane, much was rightly made of Clarke's driving on the rise. Again on Thursday, it was plentifully evident, a barging shot, like a Mark Latham handshake, but more subtle. More or less this way, he hit 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.

Poor South Africa. The attack became the attacked. The seamers wilted, and its pair of leg-spinners suffered for their over-pitched profligacy. Moreover, in the maelstrom of the morning, South Africa appeared to forget that this was Test cricket, a game of patience. At length, it was shown the way unexpectedly by rookie Rory Kleinveldt, who woke up expecting not to play, but who in mid-afternoon hit upon a nagging line and length, and managed to tighten Clarke, and on another day might have had him held at slip.

But the horse had bolted. 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.