While David Warner played the innings of day one of the deciding 3rd Test at Newlands, it was Michael Clarke that stole the headlines. He is 92 not out at stumps and while this certainly was not his most glorious innings, it was one of his most important and noteworthy.
On the one hand, David Warner removed both feet from his mouth for long enough to smash a rather imperious century. And on the other, for a period between lunch and tea, Michael Clarke seemed determined to play just about every ball with anything but his bat. Morne Morkel gave him what is called a good, old fashion going over. How he did not get out, I have no idea. But I suppose he wasn’t in any danger of being bowled, and as I said, the ball was rarely hitting his bat, which makes it hard to get caught. But there was that one that smashed his fingers, ballooned in the air and narrowly eluded both bat pad and the stumps. But you know what I mean.
Morne Morkel’s spell was even nastier than anything Johnson has dished out recently. Clarke has not made it to 25 for 11 innings. I have even heard some say that Clarke only makes runs when the going is easy. Now that is galling but perhaps it’s fair to say that Clarke would not be seen in the same mould as the likes of Steve Waugh and Allan Border, two of the toughest, most determined bastards ever to strap on pads.
A lot has been said about Australia’s return to Newlands, the scene of the 2011 debacle. But it should not be forgotten that Clarke played a magnificent innings in that very Test. He was very young in his captaincy and he scored brilliant 151 in a total of 284. After South Africa was rifled out for 96, Australia should have won, but we all would know about the ensuing carnage and calamitous defeat. I believe that innings kick started Clarke’s incredible run of form that lasted for almost two years.
Day one at Newlands was a different Michael Clarke. He looked incredibly awkward against the short ball. Morkel bowled several overs to him and he looked all at sea against quick, sharply rising deliveries. He never took a backward step but he did flinch, repeatedly took his eye of the ball and received several sickening blows. One of the first hit him on an unprotected forearm. I could just imagine James Anderson sitting in his lounge room muttering to himself, “Face up and get ready to have your f***ing arm broken”.
When Warner faced Morkel, it looked a different ball game. Mind you he didn’t stay there for long. He usually worked a single pretty easily. Not that I’m trying to say he wanted to get off strike. He gave one of the bouncers he received a fearful hook. I will admit that his eyes were, in fact, closed but he kept the ball down and dissected the outfielders.
Shortly after the forearm ball, Clarke took one on the glove and then took a nasty blow to his head. Once again, he turned away, the ball found its way under the helmet and Clarke staggered, almost going down for the count. I have not seen a batsman cop such a hiding since Jeff Thompson battered Sri Lankan Sunil Wettimuny in the 1975 World Cup. I would not have been surprised if Clarke had said to the physio, “I am going now.” But he didn’t.
Clarke showed incredible courage and that will inspire his team every bit as much as double and triple centuries. And following these trials came some runs. He passed 25. He passed 50. Play on day two has just started and he needs just eight runs for what would be a heroic century.