BEFORE scaffolding, slabs of concrete and cranes, a masterly Michael Clarke has led an extraordinary demolition job for Australia to bludgeon the second Test - and the quest for the world No.1 ranking - indisputably in the hosts' favour.
Adelaide Oval is in a rebuilding phase, set to be unveiled next year as a 50,000-seat football stadium, but right now its shell-like quality looks as if a cyclone has gone through the place. Graeme Smith's Proteas, in crisis, might have felt a similar way after a first day that, thanks to another crushing double century from captain Clarke - a record-breaking fourth of his calendar year - as well as hundreds from David Warner and Michael Hussey. The result was carnage for the hapless visiting bowlers, the rewriting of history, and Australia, in the match and the series, overwhelmingly in the ascendancy.
If the setting wasn't quite as pretty as this ground is ordinarily noted for, the exhibition of mercilessness was more than consolation, with the yet again imperious Clarke (224 not out), an aggressive Warner (119) and dependable Hussey (103) pounding South Africa's understrength and demoralised attack - missing the injured Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis, and in the afternoon, Dale Steyn as well - to all corners with utter contempt.
Ruthless … Michael Clarke on his way to an unbeaten 224 at the Adelaide Oval. Photo: Getty Images
''Warnie [Shane Warne] told me a long time ago: 'The better the bowling, the more positive you've got to be','' Clarke said. ''We took that approach today. We were going to see the ball and react and not worry too much about the result.
''I think through my career that's probably the only way I've had success. When you look at the innings I've made big scores, it's exactly that, it's the counter-attack, it's the being positive, playing my natural game.
''And there is risk there. As Graeme and AB [de Villiers] reminded me a few times today I had a lot of arse. There is no doubt about that. You need it in this game.''
They say you make your own luck and at their most frenetic, Clarke and Warner were travelling at a rate upwards of 10 runs an over, taking advantage of bowling that ranged between average and abysmal, as well as the short boundary, to pile on the majority of the 178 runs scored between lunch and tea. Then, in the afternoon, Clarke, continuing his awe-inspiring 2012 tally, smacked poor Morne Morkel for five boundaries in the one over to race past 150, as he and Hussey combined for 202 in the final session.
Clarke, in the process, breezed past Sir Donald Bradman and Ricky Ponting and into a club of his own before stumps, becoming the first batsman in Test history to strike four double centuries in a year. One of them, it is worth remembering, was a triple, and three, including the latest, were unbeaten.
In all Australia, having won the toss and in a heartbeat opted to bat, blazed a single day total of 482 for the loss of only five wickets, the country's most heady day in Tests since 1910 when Clem Hill's side hit 494 in Sydney, also against South Africa.
The Proteas, meanwhile, might as well have not got out of bed. It was that early that their woes began, with Philander reporting lower back soreness after rising creakily from his mattress in the team's city hotel on Thursday morning and withdrawing moments before play.
Before lunch they had lost Kallis, who, having knocked over Ricky Ponting cheaply, was taken to hospital after straining a hamstring.
When pace leader Steyn, too, trudged off mid-over with hamstring tightness in the last session, having been utilised confusingly for most of the day, they were at rock bottom. He returned to the field later on and removed Hussey with the final ball of the day but as Clarke wound up the damage was already done, with journeyman leg-spinner Imran Tahir in particular treated ruthlessly, taken for 0-159 from 21 overs.
The Australian captain's feats of the past 12 months are so astounding and have been produced with such regularity that they are almost becoming monotonous, truly a reflection of just how often he is raising his bat. His almost unrivalled hot streak has led him to soar past 1200 runs in less than eight full Tests this year, and undefeated in this series with almost 500 runs accrued, but he is disinterested with the historical significance of his run-making.
''I guess the only thing I've looked at is the fact that we just made 480 in a day, and now I'm trying to work out what we've got to do tomorrow to set up this game to have a crack at winning,'' Clarke said.
The only unfortunate outcome of Clarke's mightiness was that an outstanding century by Warner could be lost in the wash. Hussey, the ultimate of the under-appreciated, is used to being the sideshow even when making hundreds but Warner's faster than run-a-ball ton set the tone for Australia's recovery from 3-55, thrashing 16 boundaries and four sixes to shut down any questions about the merits of his place in the team.