Michael Clarke has come in for criticism of late, but his standing as Australia’s most important player was only enhanced by a solid comeback knock for NSW on Wednesday.
Clarke was grinding his way towards a chanceless ton against Tasmania at Blacktown International Sportspark, before he eventually nicked one behind off impressive second-game rookie Sam Rainbird (5-60) to depart for 88.
Nonetheless, it was a timely statement three weeks out from the Ashes that off-field dramas haven’t hampered his focus.
NSW were 8-280 off 96 overs at stumps on day one of the Sheffield Shield opener, after the defending Shield champions Tasmania dug in well with the ball on a deck that offered little for the bowlers.
Ryan Carters (33) and Nathan Lyon (4) are the not out batsmen for the Blues.
Earlier, Clarke put on substantial partnerships with Scott Henry (48) and Steve Smith (42) before NSW lost 3-10 and 5-49 to bring the Tigers back into the contest.
It was a disappointing fade from a NSW side with big expectations for this season, but batting conditions are likely to get worse as the match goes on.
Clarke’s timing wasn’t pristine, but it was a workmanlike innings. He brought his 50 up off 103 balls and eventually faced 190 deliveries during his four hours at the crease.
The skipper’s valuable time in the middle is a significant boost for Australia ahead of the first Test at Brisbane, with a firing Clarke imperative to hopes of stealing the urn back from England.
After spending six weeks sidelined with a back injury, Clarke was watchful against Tasmania, pocketing eight boundaries.
However, he was visibly upset at a disappointing finish, when he attempted to late cut Rainbird but flicked one through to keeper Tim Paine.
The Australian skipper has been in the news of late after the release of Ricky Ponting’s autobiography, which features a passage critical of Clarke’s attitude when vice-captain.
Tension has simmered over the past couple of days, but Ponting revealed on Wednesday that he’d made contact with Clarke and as far as he was concerned, there were no dramas between the pair.
Clarke appeared untroubled by the chronic back problem which earlier this year kept him out of the Champions Trophy tournament and most recently sidelined him from Australia’s limited overs tour of India.
Given the injury problems plaguing Australia’s fast bowling stocks, there’s hope Ben Hilfenhaus could return to Test cricket this summer.
Hilfenhaus (1-44) started brilliantly by dismissing danger man David Warner (21) caught and bowled, but he slowed down after taking a heavy fall running into bowl.
Another integral member of Australia’s batting order, Smith, played well in a rapid-fire innings, before a loose pull shot brought him undone.