Scorecard \ As it happened
Nanjing Night Net

Rarely has a stint of 25 balls to a single batsman seemed such an eternity. Yet it was exactly that for Michael Clarke, and his well-wishers back in Australia and around the world. Eventually, he got the run he needed to take him off 99 to arguably his grittiest Test century.

Australia’s captain and his heir apparent, Steve Smith, entrenched their team’s mighty position in the third Test in Cape Town by thwarting South Africa’s seamers with the second new ball and taking their team beyond 400 in the opening session of day two.

At lunch at Newlands the visitors were 4-434 after 114 overs, with Clarke on 137 and new number-six batsman Shane Watson on 21.

Australia maintained its record of conceding no more than a wicket in a session, with the departure of Smith for an aggressive 84, to end a fourth-wicket partnership of 184, the only breakthrough made by the Proteas. Across the session, which again featured only 26 overs, the visitors compiled 1-103.

The visitors resumed at 3-331, with Clarke on 92 and Smith on 50. The captain added seven runs from his first nine deliveries to reach 99, but was denied a comfortable progression to three figures by the unrelenting accuracy of seamer Kyle Abbott.

Initially the player most anxious for Clarke to reach his milestone was Smith, who was given a life on 50 at the non-striker’s end after his urge for a single that would have brought up his partner’s century was rejected, forcing a mid-pitch retreat.

A sign of Clarke’s composure throughout the period was his willingness to leave deliveries from Abbott, who was getting mild swing in each direction, on length as well as line that passed perilously close to his stumps.

The biggest disappointment for the Proteas was the contrast between the opening spells of Abbott and Vernon Philander. After day one their bowling coach Allan Donald had stressed the importance of seamers stepping up in the absence of Dale Steyn, who injured his hamstring on day one. While second-gamer Abbott rose to that challenge – his yielded only one run in six overs – senior bowler Vernon Philander conceded 39 runs in the same period. This included Smith stunning lifting a half-volley from the bowler ranked the world’s best high back over his head for six.

All but one of the 24 balls Clarke had been stuck on 99 for were delivered by Abbott. The 25th was a gentle half-volley from Philander that the Australia captain duly dispatched to the cover-point boundary to reach a richly deserved milestone.

Among Clarke’s 26 preceding Test centuries only two had taken longer to reach than the 215 balls in this match against South Africa: 218 against New Zealand in Adelaide in December 2008 and 219 against India in Delhi in October 2008.

With that burden of getting off 99 shed Clarke struck two more boundaries to end Philander’s over – and spell – to make it three boundaries in four deliveries.

It was not just the tepid bowling of Philander that Smith took a liking to. Just before Australia went to drinks without losing a wicket, with the second new ball then 20 overs old, the right-hander contemptuously lifted the menacing Morkel over extra-cover for six. On the other side of the break he superbly lifted Morkel just short of the long-on boundary with another crisp full-faced strike.

Smith missed out on being Australia’s third century-maker for the innings after he attempted to cut left-arm finger-spinner Dean Elgar off the back foot and chopped onto his stumps. The 84 runs he scored took him past 1000 runs since his recall to the Test team almost a year ago, and took the 24-year-old’s record since he pivotal Ashes century in Perth to 500 runs at 55.56.

Watson survived a first-ball leg-before referral against him, from Elgar, to got to lunch at 21 from just 19 balls, which included hoisting Elgar over the long-off boundary with the second-last ball before the break. While the timing of such a shot could normally be criticised, given the circumstance it seemed a warranted blow to a seemingly a South Africa line-up undoubtedly disheartened by the absence of its best bowler.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.