Michael Clarke produced the best innings of his nascent reign as Australia captain but South Africa edged an enthralling opening day of the first Test here yesterday.
In cool and breezy conditions at Newlands in which South Africa pace bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander shared seven wickets, Clarke scored a masterful 107 not out to lift Australia to 214 for eight.
"It was a very special hundred, mainly because we were under pressure when I had to go out there. It's always nice to step up when it's tough, it's great to contribute and score runs as captain," Clarke said. "Dale Steyn is a very good bowler and today he was quite fast and the ball swung for him. He was pretty fired up, so I had to dig in. Philander is also a good bowler, he has good control and he bowled a good length today, which made it hard to score. He also has a nice seam position and gets a bit of movement."
Steyn gave Clarke a torrid time when he came to the crease straight after lunch on 40 for three, but the Australian captain said he enjoyed the roughing up and would not have any sleepless nights over it.
"I started horribly, I felt I couldn't get my head out of the way and Steyn was getting closer and closer. But I love that challenge and I decided to just let my bat do the talking," Clarke said.
The 30-year-old admitted lady luck had smiled on him too, but said that was possibly a reward for his positive attitude as his runs came off just 114 balls, including 17 fours.
"I needed a bit of luck, but I wanted to show good intent because on pitches like that, there are no guarantees. I needed to be positive, to play my way and I'd rather get out playing shots than get out by being timid," Clarke said.
Steyn said the South Africans were satisfied with their day's work, particularly after Clarke and Shaun Marsh (44) had taken Australia to 143 for three.
"The run rate was a little more than we wanted but we managed to drag it back and to finish with eight wickets, we would have taken that any day," Steyn, who took four for 31, said.
"It's a special place to play here, especially when conditions suit us and the ball is swinging around. If I'm brutally honest, my intensity wasn't there in the one-dayers. Against Australia you always have to hit your straps hard."
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