Serene Clarke snuffs out England
Michael Clarke sapped any momentum gained by England in their new-ball burst by easing Australia into a first-innings lead before rain and bad light curtailed the first npower Test at Cardiff.
Clarke rarely looked in any bother on a benign track against honest but unthreatening England bowling in moving to 74 before rain engulfed the ground three overs after tea. When play resumed at 6.15pm BST, Clarke added nine more before gloving Stuart Broad behind.
It puts on hold the 28-year-old’s ambition of scoring a Test hundred in England, after a near miss at Lord’s five years ago and a few travails in the rest of the 2005 series.
Clarke’s dismissal ended the second-biggest partnership of Australia’s innings, 153 between himself and Marcus North, who remained unbeaten on 51.
When rain came back at 6.43pm to bring a terminal close to the day, Australia were 479 for five, a lead of 44.
After a day of torpor in the field on Thursday, three wickets arrived in quick succession in the morning session to briefly address the balance of power.
The overnight pair of Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting safely negotiated the nine overs with the old ball, adding 32 unfussy runs and taking their stand past 200.
But they were appreciably more unsure against the swinging new cherry, especially when delivered from the hand of England’s leading fast bowler, James Anderson.
After pulling Anderson for four, the Australia captain was fortunate to escape an attempted cut shot that fell just short of Kevin Pietersen in the gully.
In his next over, Andrew Flintoff struck a withdrawing Katich flush on the forearm.
It was a stark warning to the left-hander, whose 261-ball vigil was ended shortly after when Anderson beat him plumb in front with a beautiful inswinger.
But Katich’s 122 was the ideal counterpoint to his skipper, in their partnership of 239 that broke England's back.
Mike Hussey scratched around for 16 balls either side of drinks, but he leant too far towards a ball coming across him, and edged Anderson through to Matt Prior, continuing his mediocre run in Test cricket.
Ponting did not seem unduly concerned by the loss of two partners, and responded by hooking Anderson for six over Panesar’s head at fine leg.
But Panesar, having found wickets so hard to come by this season for Northamptonshire, was gifted one in his first over back.
Ponting had barely played a false stroke in a serene even 150, before chopping a low, wide ball onto his stumps. Nonetheless, his 38th Test century, and seventh versus England, had altered the course of the Test match.
There was still time for Clarke to edge Broad uncertainly through a vacant third slip as lunch approached.
As such, Clarke and North were content to nurdle Panesar around after the resumption, but the vice-captain freed his arms by advancing down the track to hoist the left-armer over long-off.
North, playing only his third Test but a veteran of five English counties, looked less assured. He narrowly avoided a humiliating departure when he top-edged Panesar to a vacant leg-slip from an attempted paddle sweep.
The scale of England's task on an unhelpful pitch was confirmed when Graeme Swann saw his first two balls disappear for four off Clarke’s bat, as Australia eased past 400.
At the other end, North, negating England's two spinners with heavy use of the slog-sweep, grew in confidence to reach his fifty off 107 balls. Australia reached tea at 458 for four.
Then the weather intervened. Only three overs were possible before rain forced the covers on at 4.12pm. The covers came off and on again, and play restarted at 6.15pm.
England were to be the beneficiaries of a disappointingly short period of play. Clarke’s wicket came totally out of the blue, but it involved some sharp thinking from the otherwise toothless Broad.
Bowling across the seam, Broad’s extra bounce grew on Clarke, who gloved through to Prior from his 154th ball. It was a shame to see all his hard work undone by stoppages.
Shortly afterwards, drizzle returned, and North and Brad Haddin wandered off for good.