Charmed Clarke put Aussies in control


Michael Clarke hit a charmed century while Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin eased the pressure on their Test careers with half-centuries as Australia took charge of the first Test against New Zealand at the Gabba on Saturday. Helped by sloppy Kiwi fielding, the Australians put themselves in a strong position with a commanding 427 in their first innings to seize a 132-run lead over the Black Caps. The Kiwis lost the big wicket of Brendon McCullum, caught in the slips by Ricky Ponting off James Pattinson in the seven overs to stumps to be 10 for one and trail by 122 runs with two days to play.
Martin Guptill was not out seven with nightwatchman Doug Bracewell yet to score. New Zealand’s hopes of a first victory in Australia for 26 years faded after they dropped Clarke twice on his way to 139, while Haddin chipped in with 80 and former skipper Ponting hit 78. It was the seventh time in the last eight seasons that Australia has amassed 400 runs or more in the first innings at their Gabba fortress, where they remain unbeaten for 23 years.
Clarke rode his luck to claim his 17th Test century after he was dropped at 85 and 105 and bowled off a no-ball. He made the All Blacks pay dearly as he shared in a 108-run sixth wicket stand with Haddin for Australia to take control of the match.
It was Clarke’s fourth Test hundred against the Kiwis and second in his last five Test innings after scoring 151 against South Africa in the first innings of the Cape Town Test last month. Clarke was out on the fourth ball after tea, caught at deep backward square by Tim Southee off Chris Martin, ending his 368-minute stay which included 19 fours and a six.
The Kiwis made it easier for Clarke, with wicketkeeper Reece Young and Jesse Ryder spilling catches, both off the luckless paceman Doug Bracewell.
Clarke on 85 edged straight into Young’s gloves only for the wicketkeeper to fumble the chance and after lunch Ryder dropped a high two-handed chance at third slip when the Australian skipper was on 105. Clarke was also bowled off an inside edge on 23 late Friday only to get a reprieve when Bracewell was found to have overstepped for a no-ball. Ponting and Haddin both took the heat off their Test spots, with Haddin’s innings including two sixes and six boundaries. Ponting, whose last big innings was 209 against Pakistan in Hobart in January last year, hit 12 boundaries off 140 balls and put on 86 runs for the fourth wicket with Clarke. Ponting narrowly avoided being run out before he had scored and he also survived a video referee’s referral for lbw on 63 on Friday.
Mike Hussey was caught bat-pad by Ryder off spinner Daniel Vettori for 15. Bracewell finally grabbed the wicket he thoroughly deserved when he had James Pattinson caught by Ross Taylor in the slips for 12. Test debutant Mitchell Starc, dropped by Taylor on nought, went on to make an unbeaten 32 off 54 balls, while Martin finished with three for 89 off 28 overs. Black Caps wicketkeeper Young was forced to leave the field after tea and needed 12 stitches to a mouth wound after being struck from a Vettori delivery that spat off the pitch.