|Clarke’s century will improve his popularity amongst Australian fans [GALLO/GETTY]|
Michael Clarke took over the Australian captaincy knowing he had to win back the support of a cricket public that had
lost patience with a national team in decline in the wake of last season’s Ashes defeat.
Clarke marked his first home series as skipper with a hundred on Saturday, albeit punctuated with three big reprieves, to help Australia to 427 on day three in reply to New Zealand’s first innings of 295.
When he walked off after making 139, the 11,451 fans at the Gabba rose to give him an ovation. It was a far more pleasing noise than the boos that echoed around some Australian grounds last summer when he was struggling for
“It’s always nice that your home fans support you. That’s nice, yeah!” he said, grinning an ironic smile.
“For me, it’s about scoring runs and helping this team win games of cricket. Hopefully I can continue to earn the public respect.”
Ex-skipper Ricky Ponting and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin also came into the series under intense pressure to hang onto their places in the team, despite some impressive innings in Australia’s series-leveling win over South Africa at Johannesburg earlier this month.
“It’s always nice that your home fans support you. That’s nice, yeah!”
Both kept the critics at bay for a while with big innings for the home crowd on Saturday – Ponting making 78 in an important 86-run stand with Clarke and Haddin scoring 80, including a 108-run sixth-wicket partnership with the new captain.
Rookie paceman James Pattinson removed dangerous opener Brendon McCullum in the last over as New Zealand went to stumps at 10 for one, with Martin Guptill on seven.
“Good start, no doubt,” Clarke said.
“Little bit of luck, which obviously goes a long way. Most importantly, a really good day from us, from the team.
“Ricky was outstanding… and would have been disappointed not to make 100; Brad Haddin, outstanding; our tail wagged as well – then picking up an important wicket,” he said.
“Always nice, personally, to make some runs, but more importantly for our team I think we’re in a really good position in this Test match.”
Ponting hasn’t scored a century in 29 innings, but back-to-back half centuries have taken some pressure of the 36-year-old batsman for now.
It was Clarke’s 17th Test century, and his third in six innings, but it came with some help from the New Zealanders.
He had repreives on 23, 85 and 105 – all against unlucky 21-year-old paceman Doug Bracewell – before he was finally out pulling a Chris Martin ball to Tim Southee in the outfield five balls after tea.
‘Rough day’ for Bracewell
Clarke is leading Australia for only the seventh time, and the sixth since replacing Ponting after the World Cup quarterfinal exit in March.
He got a light pat on the back from Martin as he departed, the dismissal sparking a mini-collpase as No. 8 Peter Siddle (0) edged Vettori to slip with no addition to the total and Pattinson (12) edged to Ross Taylor again at slip to give Bracewell his first test wicket in Australia.
Bracewell missed out again when Taylor put down a regulation chance off Mitchell Starc before the No. 10 batsman had scored. Starc went on to score an unbeaten 32 before he ran out of partners.
Haddin was the ninth wicket to fall. After clouting Martin straight down the ground for six to bring up his 10th Test 50, he batted diligently with a long Australian tail before hitting part-timer Guptill to long-on, where Martin took a good catch to end a 145-ball innings which contained six boundaries and two sixes.
|Former captain Ponting also had a positive day at the crease making 78 runs [GALLO/GETTY]|
Veteran paceman Martin led the bowling with 3-89, with 108-Test veteran Vettori claiming 2-88 from 37 overs and Southee taking 2-103.
Bracewell’s return of 1-104 from 26 overs could have been a lot more impressive, but for some dropped catches and some bad luck.
Clarke chopped onto his stumps when the Australian total was 140-3 late on Friday and was walking off the field when he was recalled for a no-ball after a review showed Bracewell had overstepped the crease.
On Saturday, wicketkeeper Reece Young put down a regulation caught-behind when Clarke was 85 and Ryder let a head-high catch through both hands at third slip when the Australian captain was on 105.
Martin said New Zealand created plenty of chances, “probably enough on reflection to still be in the fight.”
“There were good periods of building up pressure, but when we got that opportunity we didn’t take it and they actually changed the momentum through our ineptness with the catching, that was the tough thing today,” Martin said, adding that Bracewell had a “rough day.”