Michael Clarke produced his third double century this year and reached 1,000 runs for 2012 with a defiant unbeaten 218 on Monday, continuing his exemplary batting form since taking over as Australia captain and guiding the hosts to a first innings lead against South Africa.
Clarke posted his 20th career Test century as he guided Australia to 487-4 in reply to South Africa’s 450.
After going to the crease with Australia in trouble at 40-3 late Sunday, Clarke shared a record 259-run, fourth-wicket partnership with opener Ed Cowan, who posted his maiden Test hundred before he was run out for 136 and an unbeaten 188-run fifth-wicket stand with Mike Hussey, who was not out 86 at stumps on the fourth day.
After being in such a precarious situation on day three, the Australians are now chasing an unlikely victory. They’ll need to establish a decent lead on the last day, then try to bowl South Africa out quickly.
“I know it’s going to be tough winning the match from here, but we’re going to have a crack,” Clarke said.
Clarke sprinkled 21 boundaries through his 350-ball stand and, apart from two loose shots immediately before and after he reached 50, was rarely troubled by the bowling attack rated as the best in the world.
Cowan stroked 17 boundaries and had a few chances before he was dismissed, out of his ground when fast bowler Dale Steyn got a hand to a full-blooded Clarke drive and deflected the ball onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end just before the tea interval to make the Australian total 299-4.
It was the only wicket to fall on day four after Australia resumed on 111-3, making a mockery of predictions that the Gabba pitch would be fast and furious and be fruitful for the bowling attacks, which combined featured five of the world’s top nine pacemen.
Clarke joined opener Cowan late Sunday after Ponting was dismissed for a duck and their nearly six-hour stand became the country’s highest fourth-wicket partnership in a Test at the Gabba, surpassing the 245 by Mike Hussey and Clarke in 2007-2008 against Sri Lanka, and a record for that wicket against South Africa.
The Clarke-Hussey combination resumed after the tea break, plundering the tiring South Africa attack. Hussey hit 12 boundaries and faced only 109 balls for his 86 in a partnership that was generating a run a minute.
Cowan had a couple of chances, including one when he should have been run out on 106 after being sent back by Clarke when attempting a quick single and another on 123 when he hooked Rory Kleinveldt to deep fine leg, where Steyn and Jacques Rudolph got in the way of each other and put down a routine outfield catch.
Cowan hit 18 boundaries to prove he could convert a good start into a century and gave Clarke a gesture to signal no hard feelings when he was finally run out after 388 minutes at the crease.