Clarke’s counter-punching saves the day


It didn’t have the feel of the first morning of an Ashes series. But it should have. It seems obvious these two competitors should play five-Test series, home and away, every couple of years. Or at least three and three if neither home broadcaster will give up their summer income.

But it was a the first day of a Test match nonetheless.

While we waited for the storm to hit in Melbourne, the TV coverage revealed rain in Cape Town. When play began an hour or so later the mountain looked shrouded in moisture-laden clouds which threatened to produce at any moment.

The wicket appeared green. Sections of it were tufty like Bert Newton’s hair. While other sections had the appearance of tartan. It would have been a brave skipper who won the toss and batted. And, given the South African skipper opens the innings, when he won the toss Graeme Smith inserted the Australians.

For the first hour it was the right decision: Steyn bowled with pace and shape and threatened to run through the top order, if things went his way. They did initially. Watson nicked to Kallis at second slip for next to nothing.

Then Hughes was squared up by a beauty from Vernon Philander, the man with the West Indian name (especially if it had another ‘er’ on it), and Boucher took his squillionth catch.

Shaun Marsh and Ricky Ponting (both playing for their spots) dug in against the fine bowling, and 200 was starting to emerge as a monumental score – and a long way off.  Ponting refused to give an inch, and defended grimly, apart from one delivery which he lifted over the backward square leg fence.

Steyn maintained the pressure and was rewarded when Ponting was trapped in front, after the South African challenged the initial not-out verdict.

The aggressive Steyn started to drool. Michael Clarke had to face the music. This particular score was full of crashing cymbals and variations of that famous riff from Psycho. Steyn bowled fast and short: too quick for the Australian skipper who was so hurried his eye left the ball as he ducked and weaved. Steyn followed up with beautiful outswingers.

Clarke, under immense pressure, counter-attacked, going hard at anything full. The relief when Steyn was spelled was palpable and Jacques Kallis helped relieve that pressure even further with a few overs of licorice all-sorts. Imran Tahir, the leggie, also failed to land them consistently (or at all on occasions) enough and suddenly the Australians had put on nearly 100 runs.

Graeme Smith, who is looking more and more like M. C. Cowdrey’s indolent cousin, delayed the return of Steyn. But it was clear he needed to get more drool into the attack. And when he wasthrown the ball again he struck with his first delivery. Marsh, beaten for pace, wafted around a ball which also came back and was judged LBW.

Australia was 4/140. Remarkably the skipper had 74 off 77 deliveries when tea was taken.

After the break, with conditions deteriorating, Clarke continued to score at the same rate. He watched, though, as he lost his partners: Hussey caught behind off Morkel; Haddin became Steyn’s fourth victim for just 5; Johnson, who has made runs here before, stuck around until he lobbed one to mid-wicket; and the clueless Ryan Harris hit a dolly to mid-on.

Meanwhile Clarke continued to play shots, and the South Africans continued to give him opportunity, bowling full at him hoping the ball would swing late.  He brought up his hundred just before drinks with another well-timed cover drive.

And what a hundred it was. Memorable. On a day when the contest was on, and batting was never going to be easy, Clarke summed up the situation. Having worn a  few short ones you could see him announce, through aggressive drives, “Righto, there’s only one way to go about this: bang.” You could see a hint of Ian Chappell’s intelligence and aggressive retaliation, and a hint of K.J. Hughes shot-making.

If not for Clarke, the Australians would probably have capitulated. When bad light stopped play, he walked off with a sense of personal achievement, and was no doubt happy when the rain came. While the wicket settled down during the afternoon, it will still be difficult to bat on, and the Australians have at least some runs on the board (*/214). The struggle between bat and ball, fascinating during Day 1, will continue.

When you watch days like this, you wonder how Test cricket can possibly be in any danger. This was a terrific day where menace lurked in every bowlers’ approach, and batsmen had to give their all in reply.

Michael Clarke had plenty to give.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    I’m starting up a movement.

    No More Roads in Test Cricket Action Faction.

    Superb innings from Clarke.

    Its Mats Philander isn’t it?

    On wickets that ask searching questions, you pretty much know who’s going to fail with the bat.

  2. John Butler says

    Sounds like yet another test cricket day with more memorable moments than a season of limited overs stuff.

    I’ll 2nd your motion Flynny. Viva le NMRTCAF!

    And you’re spot on regarding who’s going to survive in tough conditions.

    Clarke appears to thrive in his new role. Will the team?

  3. Only one thing for it.

    Drop all the non NSW players and replace them with Sydney boys.

    More seriously:

    1) Bring in another young opener and drop Watson down to Ponting’s spot.

    2) Drop Ponting and Haddin (never to return).

    3) Look at the domestic competition and pull out some young in form (not just in favour) specific position players.

    4) Appoint Tim Coyle as coach.

  4. JTH,

    Tim Coyle is a rabbid Cats supporter – surely that qualifies him.

  5. For anything really Phantom.

  6. Now here’s a first. Apart from the irrelevent comment about Tim Coyle’s football loyalties, I agree 100% with Phantom.

    Ponting has a record second only to Bradman. He should not weaken it by under performing in his last season. Specially when there are several fine young batsmen capable of replacing him.

    Even at his best, Haddin did not have great keeping skills. The selectors should use both Tasmanians (Payne and Wade) this summer and work out which of the two should be Australia’s keeper over the next few years.

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    A beautiful and classic day of Test Cricket. Tough. Grinding. Testing. Momentum swings. Bowlers on top with the help of dark skies and a green track. As said above, two Tests is not enough. Insulting. Disrespectful.

    Respect for Clarke. Captain’s knock. Centuries in his last two knocks. The first saved the series against Sri Lanka and last night’s effort made a huge statement on the first day of the ‘series’ (or ‘filler’ between 20/20 fixtures).

    Agree about Watson – shouldn’t be opener. Love Punter, but all things end.

    I think we’ll win the series. There appears to be a good feel about the Aussies at the moment. We play well in SA who are still relying on the old guard: Kallis, Smith. Steyn carries their bowling and has such a workload. Back to back Tests may stretch him.

    Very relieved Sidds is in. Cummins isn’t ready. A few wickets in 20/20 should never be considered reason for Test selection.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    Sorry, also wanted to say in the first paragraph: Clarke seized the day with aggression and boldness.

  9. “It would have been a brave skipper who won the toss and batted. And, given the South African skipper opens the innings, when he won the toss Graeme Smith inserted the Australians.”

    Ooooo… nice jibe.

  10. Steady on, gentlemen.

    One day’s play and already there are calls for the lopping of heads.
    Keep your powder dry, for now.

    Smith’s decison to remove Steyn from the attack and replace him with Kallis was the turning
    point of Day 1. Granted, Clarke had played a glorious straight-drive off Steyn in his previous
    over, but surely Steyn had at least another over or two left in him for that spell. Kallis served
    up a smorgasboard of pies, on which Clarke feasted, and all of a sudden the pressure was
    released. I thought that, up until that point, Clarke was looking scratchy (as most would be
    facing Steyn in that sort of mood). Really poor captaincy by Smith.

    A positive for Australia was how S Marsh battled on in such difficult conditions for batting. It
    mystified me why M Morkel persisted with his around-the-wicket tactics to Marsh.

    Another 30-plus runs to get Australia to 250 would be an excellent result.

    Extremely important tonight for the bowlers to bowl good lines. Which M Johnson will show up?

  11. One minor gripe, if i may, about the ABC commentary:
    Drew Morphett seems like a lovely bloke, and probably does not have a nasty bone
    in his body. But he is not a cricket commentator.

  12. “When you watch days like this, you wonder how Test cricket can possibly be in any danger.”

    My thoughts exactly. Very few ODI’s in history have created the kind of tension that was witnessed last night. And I would confidently suggest no Twenty has or ever will.

    As I said elsewhere once it’s like comparing Dostoyevsky and Proust to Mills and Boon. But we all know who sells more…

  13. Marsh and Boon

  14. Tim Coyle’s other plusses are two shields and three one day national titles in the last five years. (A title each year)

    Considering that all he had to work with were a few misfits from the other states as well as some two headed home grown bodgies he must know something about cricket.

  15. Let it be known, if John Inverarity selects Brad Haddin for the Boxing Day Test, I’ll drive to his house and pull up all of his plants.

  16. Damo Balassone says

    I’m glad you mentioned the comparison to Kim Hughes as I felt the day resembled Boxing Day ’81 in some ways – a great attacking ton from a leader while everyone else crumbled around him.

  17. Can I kindly ask what this means?

    Then Hughes was squared up by a beauty from Vernon Philander, the man with the West Indian name (especially if it had another ‘er’ on it),

  18. Careful Litza,

    if he is that silly he may have stinging nettles in his garden instead of nice things.

    Take some gloves.

  19. G’day Mack, a weak attempt at humour. I thought his name sounded very West Indian, but if it were Vernon Philanderer it would be even more West Indian.

  20. “I’m glad you mentioned the comparison to Kim Hughes as I felt the day resembled Boxing Day ’81 in some ways…”

    Damo, all that was missing was someone in the crowd holding a “Beware of Trains” sign. As well as Hughes’ ton and Lillee’s phenomenal spell on that day in ’81, I remember a bloke in the crowd that kept holding up one of those black & yellow signs – the kind they used to have at rail pedestrian crossings in Melbourne – every time something exciting happened. My theory is that he met his mates on the way to the ‘G and discovered that he was the only one who hadn’t made a sign, so he pinched whatever he could find.

  21. Skip of Skipton says

    Is Vernon Philander(er) a black, white or coloured Seth Efrican? I was following Cricinfo on the net last night. I was imagining him to be black.

    I was born in 1969 and the first ball of test cricket I took serious note of was when Bob Willis cleaned bowled Gary Cosier; first ball of the Aussies second innings in the ’78/’79 season. From then on I was hooked. I understood that Lillee and many of our best players were indisposed with WSC etc., but I didn’t care. I loved it.

  22. Skip,

    you obviously missed Denis Lillee (hair flopping) go through the world eleven in WA as his entre to test cricket.


  23. Skip of Skipton says


    If that was the 1972 tour of the ‘world XI’, then yes. I remember my dad (who wasn’t a big cricket fan, by Almanac standards) saying how entertaining the Australia vs. India test series in ’77/”78 was, and I kind of got interestered from that. There were also boys who used to scream “Lillee’! and “Thommo”! at school.

  24. Skip of Skipton says


    The same kids also jumped on your back shouting “Jezza”! or “Van der Haar”! in the winter.

  25. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if Thommo don’t get ya, Lillee must!

  26. The more I see of Watson as a bowler, the more ridiculous it is that he opens the batting.

  27. David Downer says

    Struth, that was some hour!

    PF I assume you posted that comment prior to Watson’s 5wkts in 21 balls?? #goodjudge

  28. David Downer says

    You definitely posted it before his own dismissal just now! #greatjudge

  29. Game and series over.

    Extensive changes required.

    Inflated egos need popping for a start.

  30. Peter Flynn says

    There is plenty of time to play a 5 Test series.

    A 9 or 11 Test series looks feasible.

  31. Maybe they all thought this was actually 5 one dayers, rather than 1 five dayer?

    @jth – I was with you on the Philanderer thing. Viv and a couple of the bowlers were notorious and it reminded me of a joke from the 80s about an Aussie and A Windie standing side by side at a urinal together. Each had a tattoo where the letters WENDY were visible. You’ve probably heard it…

  32. Wow! And I thought I was hearing things when Ihehard 9 for something on the pillow radio in the middle of the night. I am also opposed to roads, but this test will do little for the PJF putsch. The South Africans are going to miss out on two weekend gates.

    I wish I hadn’t hit the hay after the South African innings.

  33. Welcome to the Republic of Barbados I hope you have a nice day.

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