: A brilliant, unbeaten double century from captain Michael Clarke and a debut one from opener Ed Cowan extinguished South Africa’s hopes of victory and left the home side well placed on 487-4 at the close of the fourth day’s play in the first Test at the Gabba on Monday.
South Africa’s own first innings total of 450-9 appeared to have made the game ‘safe’ after the second day’s play was entirely washed out but Clarke’s 218 not out and Cowan’s 136 have given Australia’s bowlers an outside chance of exerting some pressure on the Proteas top order in the final two sessions of the match on Tuesday.
The pitch at the Gabba has shown no signs of deterioration with Proteas bowling coach Allan Donald suggesting after the day’s play that the teams “could play another three days on it without any difficulty for the batsmen”.
The only wicket to fall during the day was a fortuitous one when a Clarke straight drive was deflected on to the stumps by Dale Steyn, leaving Cowan stranded out of his crease. His 136 spanned six-and-a-half hours and contained 17 fours from 256 deliveries.
Any hope that the freak dismissal would offer respite for South Africa’s wilting attack was quickly dashed by Michael Hussey who raced to 50 from just 68 deliveries and finished the day on a polished 86 not out.
Clarke overcame an unconvincing start and grew in confidence and stature as the day progressed. There was no area of the field he favoured and none that he neglected as he cut, pulled and straight drove 21 fours from 350 balls faced. He became the first batsman to reach 1 000 Test runs in the calendar year at an average of 111. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis will have the opportunity of following him to the milestone later in the series.
“It was a very hard day for us but congratulations to Michael and Ed for a couple of superb innings,” said Donald after the day’s play. “We stuck to our task and never gave up. We bowled well in patches and created a couple of early chances – Michael hit a couple in the air which landed in gaps. But there are no excuses for bowling 22 no balls and that’s an issue that we will have to address.”
In the absence of a recognised spinner following the non-selection of Imran Tahir and the injury to JP Duminy, captain Graeme Smith bowled himself for nine overs and even turned to the extremely occasional off-spin of Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen.