Peter Roebuck: Cavalier's redemption through discipline
Clarke bided his time. He was not going to risk it all on a single throw
Tuesday 05 December 2006
Michael Clarke has resurrected his cricket career with a superbly constructed century. Admittedly, this Adelaide track is dead, but the hosts were under pressure when the 25-year-old took guard - besides which a substantial innings was needed to prolong his return to the side. It was now or never. Clarke responded with a century. In his own inimitable way, he informed the selectors that he was now ready to play a responsible role.
Cast into the wilderness soon after a patchy Ashes series last year, Clarke must have feared that he might have to wait years for another chance. Moreover he had been recalled as a temporary measure. The selectors had pencilled in Shane Watson, only for the bananabender to strain one of his muscles.
Clarke immediately caught the eye. He knew that a flashing fifty was not going to be enough. He is a cavalier by instinct, but his task has been to combine his native sense of adventure with the productivity expected from professional batsman.
He opened with calculated shots but his most telling stroke, a skilfully executed glide through midwicket, was played with a roll of the wrist that sent the ball speeding between fielders. Some sportsmen are graceful by design, others by God's decree. Clarke's ability to pierce gaps was a mark of his batting. Repeatedly he drove between mid-off and extra-cover, forcing the occupants to embark on a long and often fruitless chase.
Wisely, too, he kept his shots on the turf. Placement and safety had not previously been in the forefront of his thinking. He has learnt a lot along the way.
Not that it was easy. Resuming on 30, Clarke scored only a handful of runs in the opening hour. Eventually the runs started to come. Adam Gilchrist helped to break the shackles with a typically bright innings. His partner responded with some handsome straight drives. As far as bowlers are concerned it is the most chilling of strokes. It makes them want to measure the width of the bat.
Finally the floodgates opened. Clarke darted down the pitch to take uncontested singles. Fifty came and went like a settlement on a long trip. Steve Harmison was flicked past square leg by a batsman expert off his pads. Jimmy Anderson's attempted inswingers were put away. Suddenly Clarke was in the nineties. So near, yet so far. More fluent drives took him to 98, and a single to long-leg followed. England brought in their field. Giles sent down a teasing over. Clarke bided his time. He was not going to risk it all on the roll of a die. At last he faced Anderson, and he steered the ball between cover fieldsmen and ran full tilt for the bowler's end and the redemption it promised.
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