Australia combined aggression and courage to seize control of the third and decisive Test against South Africa at Newlands on Saturday as they closed day one on 331 for three. While David Warner attacked with a brisk 135, Michael Clarke withstood a brutal spell of fast bowling from Morne Morkel. The Australian captain went to stumps with bruises on his hand, elbow, jaw, shoulder and midriff, but also with 92 to his name after a battling return to form.
Steve Smith was not out at the close after scoring a breezy 50 in an unbroken 114-run stand with Clarke that left South Africa facing a long road back into the match.
Warner attacked the South African bowlers from the third over of the day, when he took nine runs off Dale Steyn, and rarely let up on his way to a seventh Test century. Although he lost opening partner Chris Rogers in the first session and saw Alex Doolan depart just after lunch, Warner’s scoring rate ensured that South Africa never gained a real foothold.
The hosts were hampered by an injury to Steyn midway through the second session, which saw the fast bowler leave the field with a hamstring strain. He failed to return, and will undergo a fitness test on Sunday morning to see if he can rejoin the attack.
Steyn was replaced by Morkel, whose spell to Clarke from around the wicket produced a piece of pure theatre as the Australian captain was left ducking and diving and suffered regular blows to the body. While the one to his jaw felled him halfway through the 45th over of the day, Clarke got back to his feet and refused to be cowed even as Morkel peppered him with three more short balls.
The encounter proved the defining period of the day. Once Clarke had seen off Morkel he was able to play his way back into form against South Africa’s part-time spinners, who conceded more than four runs per over throughout the day.
Warner went to a chanceless century from 104 deliveries in the midst of Morkel’s barrage, but was eventually caught behind off the bowling of JP Duminy to end a telling 79-run stand with Clarke.
By that time Clarke was looking comfortable, if a little sore, and found another attacking partner in the form of Smith. As South Africa’s spinners failed to contain the pair, the match drifted further and further away from the home side. Even the second new ball brought no relief, with Clarke and Smith capitalizing on the harder ball by finding the boundary regularly in the final 30 minutes.
While Clarke enjoyed the gift of four overthrows in the penultimate over of the day, Smith went to his half-century with a cheeky ramp shot that summed up the turnaround continued…