A maiden Test ton by under pressure opener Ed Cowan was a hard act to follow.
But captain Michael Clarke (218 not out) produced a show stopper to lift Australia to 4-487 in their first innings by stumps on day four in the opening Test against South Africa on Monday. Mike Hussey was the other not out batsman on 86. On borrowed time after failing to reach triple figures in his 12 previous Test knocks, Cowan finally got the monkey – and selectors – off his back with a magnificent 136.
Advertisement Cowan and Clarke had come together with Australia in deep trouble at 3-40 late on Sunday in reply to South Africa’s 450.
When Cowan was finally dismissed by a freak run out after lunch, they had put on 259 together – the highest fourth-wicket partnership by Australia at the Gabba, surpassing Clarke and Hussey’s 245-run effort against Sri Lanka in 2007. It was also the biggest fourth-wicket stand by Australia against South Africa and the fifth biggest overall against the Proteas in Test history.
Cowan was the sentimental story of the day after rejuvenating his Test career in front of an adoring Gabba faithful including his wife Virginia and 12-week old daughter Romy. But Clarke became the headline act as he sailed past 200 for the third time this year.
Clarke is Test cricket’s leading run-scorer of the year, sitting on exactly 1000 runs at a super human average of 111.
As captain he is averaging 68.39 with the bat.
“I don’t feel much has changed. I think now what I am doing is that when I am getting in, I am in cashing in,” Clarke told Channel Nine.
Clarke didn’t have it all his own way during his 350-ball, eight hour knock.
He survived a caught behind review off Vernon Philander on 126 and nicked the unlucky Morne Morkel (2-109) to keeper AB de Villiers on 135 off a no ball. Cowan also had some close calls.
After surviving a caught behind shout off Morkel on 47 when replays showed a no ball late on Sunday, Cowan rode his luck on Monday when he almost played on at 53, narrowly avoided being run out at 106 and was dropped by Dale Steyn in a fielding mix-up at 123.
Cowan’s six-and-a-half hour knock came to an abrupt halt when Steyn (1-109) somehow got a finger on a Clarke straight drive and caught the opener short at the non-striker’s end.
Still, Cowan was convincing enough in his 257-ball knock to nail down the Test opener spot after easily surpassing his previous best score of 74 against India last summer.
“I feel a sense of relief but also accomplishment,” Cowan said.
“It’s good to get runs and hopefully cement my spot.
“It’s easy to provide clarity on the big stage – I had no choice but to produce.”
Averaging under 30 after seven Tests when he arrived at Brisbane, Cowan was under the pump following a string of minor scores in the Sheffield Shield (averaging 21) and Rob Quiney’s promotion in the absence of Shane Watson.
Now Cowan’s opening partner David Warner may come under the microscope after passing 50 just once in his last nine innings, including a paltry four in the first dig in Brisbane.