• Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day

Clarke powers Australia ahead of SA

The Report by Daniel Brettig
November 12, 2012
Australia 487 for 4 (Clarke 218*, Cowan 136, Hussey 86*, Morkel 2-109) lead South Africa 450 by 37 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Ed Cowan kept his head over the ball on the way to 136 © Getty Images
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On the same afternoon Australia rejoiced the confirmation of Ed Cowan as a genuine Test opening batsman, their prolific captain Michael Clarke squeezed South Africa with a merciless unbeaten 218 to give his side the psychological and tactical high ground after four days of the first Test.

Graeme Smith's side began the day in search of quick wickets to press for victory in Brisbane, but a first Test century of high accomplishment by Cowan smoothed the path for Clarke and Michael Hussey to run the tourists ragged in the final session. Australia piled up 181 runs after tea to close on 487 for 4, a lead of 37 with another extended day's play to follow.

Clarke's innings grew in command with every hour, and maintained his outstanding record of performance since assuming the national captaincy. His third Test score beyond 200 in 2012 made Clarke one of only three batsman to achieve the feat, joining Sir Donald Bradman and Ricky Ponting. Rare company indeed.

Cowan was considered by some to be under some pressure for his place entering this match, though the national selector John Inverarity had been highly supportive. That faith proved well founded, for Cowan produced exactly the sort of innings the team required. Scoring within his favoured zones and showing sound judgement of when to defend, this was a major step in Cowan's career, and also a poignant achievement a year to the day since the death of his mentor, Peter Roebuck.

Hussey's innings demonstrated how destructive his batting can be when runs are behind him, and in his busy running and pure driving he pushed tiring opponents to their limits. Before the series Inverarity had hoped Hussey was "due" for a strong series against South Africa after several poor ones, and he has made the ideal start.

The defusing of the touring bowlers was a tonic for the rest of Australia's batsmen, and the contempt with which they were treated at the finish by Clarke and Hussey will be sobering for Smith. Rory Kleinveldt and Vernon Philander gave up 19 no-balls between them, the latter's bowling notably nobbled on perhaps the flattest Test surface he has seen on so far. Steyn threatened intermittently, and Morkel's bounce did not diminish, but the employment of Smith and Hashim Amla as modest spinners conveyed a lack of variety in South Africa's attack.

In responding aggressively to a perilous position the night before, Cowan and Clarke had tilted momentum their way even before they emerged on the fourth morning. But they had to fight to build on that advantage early on. After a brief early flurry, runs came steadily rather than swiftly, Cowan pushing singles while Clarke punched a pair of delectable straight drives back past Steyn in between leaving plenty of deliveries wide of off stump.

Cowan had an uncomfortable moment when he cuffed past the stumps and down to the fine leg boundary while trying to leave Steyn, and Clarke was twice the beneficiary of good fortune when his unconvincing attempts at a sort of half-pull shot lobbed into the air but out of the reach of fielders.

Clarke looked ungainly against the short ball on more than one occasion, once taking his eye off a Steyn bouncer and gloving into the space between the stumps and the slips cordon. But he prospered in other areas, playing with a restraint that showed self-awareness of how important his wicket has become for Australia.

As the adjournment ticked closer Cowan reached the outskirts of a century, gaining four runs when the umpire Asad Rauf failed to detect Morkel's bouncer had skimmed straight off the batsman's helmet. He would go to the interval two runs short of a hundred, but happy to wait.

On resumption Cowan did not take long to gather those runs, pulling Philander powerfully to midwicket to pass three figures. His celebration was ebullient, but he also collected himself pointedly at the end of the over, regathering his focus to resume the task. At the other end Clarke had further troubles with the short ball, but unfurled a pair of crisp drives to close on his own century.

He reached the mark with a hurried single to backward point, and raised his bat for the sixth time since becoming Test captain and the second time in as many Gabba Tests. Clarke and Cowan's stand had by this time become the highest for the fourth wicket in all Tests between Australia and South Africa, blunting a visiting attack that had looked so daunting at the start of the innings.

Having seen off the second new ball, Cowan was dropped at fine leg when Steyn's path to the catch was distracted somewhat by Alviro Petersen's convergence. Ultimately Cowan would would not perish at the hand of any bowler. Instead was run-out at the non-striker's end when Steyn deflected a Clarke drive onto the stumps - Cowan's penchant for backing up a long way reducing his chances of getting back in time. That dismissal brought Hussey to the crease, and he had a couple of nervy moments against Morkel before tea arrived.

There would be a few more plays and misses in the final session, but they were rare moments of consolation for South Africa as Hussey and Clarke streaked away. Hussey's cover driving was a particular highlight, while Clarke reached his double century with another pristine straight drive. By the close a draw was the most likely result, but Clarke, Cowan and Hussey had ensured that it will be the South Africans more likely to be sweating.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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