Cowan and Clarke make hay
Michael Clarke’s third Test score in excess of 199 this year and Ed Cowan’s maiden international ton dashed South Africa’s hopes of victory at the Gabba on day four of the first Test.
Responding to the Proteas’ 450 all out, Clarke and Cowan began the day with Australia in potential peril at 111 for three having put on 71 yesterday.
The captain and opening batsman progressed with conviction and the day’s only wicket came when Cowan was run out backing up for 136, ending a stand of 259. Clarke closed on 218 of 487 for four, having added 188 with Mike Hussey who had eased to 86 not out.
Clarke’s sixth Test hundred since inheriting the captaincy from Ricky Ponting in March 2011 was a fitting tribute to his mentor Peter Roebuck, who died a year ago. It gave the hosts an outside chance of victory although a draw in the first game of three is much likelier.
Clarke and Cowan, resuming on 34 and 49 respectively after the latter survived being caught behind in yesterday’s penultimate over due to Morne Morkel overstepping, initially accumulated steadily.
In two and a half hours of play before lunch they scored 103 runs with barely a scare and such was the unthreatening nature of the South Africa attack that Graeme Smith, who is without a frontline spinner in this game, chose to bowl for the first Test in five years.
Cowan heralded his fifty in the first over and Clarke followed him shortly after bringing up the hundred partnership.
Progress was slow, Australia going more than 16 overs without a boundary, before Cowan pulled Smith, whose last of eight Test wickets came in 2005, for four.
Cowan was given a hand when he was credited with a four which took him to 98 in the penultimate over before lunch when the ball actually came off his helmet.
He pulled Vernon Philander for four in the afternoon's second over to go to three figures and that briefly seemed to free both batsmen, Clarke striking three fours off the next Morkel over to move into the nineties.
Clarke took a single to bring up the 200 stand and, having slowed again, another to reach his own hundred.
A mix-up between Dale Steyn and Jacques Rudolph in the deep saw Cowan dropped on 123, but Steyn made up for his part in the error when he got a finger to the ball in his followthrough to run the opener out just before tea.
South Africa’s frustration was summed up in two events after tea. First they wasted a review on a caught-behind appeal, when replays showed the delivery from Philander had been nowhere near Clarke’s bat. Then Clarke, on 135, inside-edged to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers from a Morkel no-ball.
Clarke was scoring more freely by that point and took advantage of his let-off, reaching 150 with a clip into the leg side for two, while Hussey helped himself to a 68-ball half-century.
Smith brought another part-timer, Hashim Amla, into the attack but Australia eased ahead and Clarke soon reached his double-hundred with an immaculately timed on-driven four off Steyn.