Clarke gives WA bowlers the Blues
Clarke gives WA bowlers the Blues

Australia's sights may be trained on big picture issues such as the World Twenty20 tournament and a busy Test schedule leading to next year's dual Ashes campaigns but important sharp focus gains are being made in a small corner of State cricket.

While two crucial dropped catches marred WA's workmanlike performance with the ball as NSW claimed the first Sheffield Shield points of the season and a 141-run lead, the performance of several rival players pleased the two national selectors present at the WACA Ground yesterday.

Michael Clarke was both observer and subject and the Test captain warmed up for a long summer that will include tough series against South Africa, Sri Lanka and India before the two battles for the Ashes.

Put down at 42 when Shaun Marsh failed to reward Nathan Coulter-Nile for his probing swing bowling, Clarke was the key figure as the Blues advanced to 9-358 in reply to WA's 217.

Steve O'Keefe (74 not out) was the third batsmen to reach 70 while last man Doug Bollinger was so buoyed with confidence that he attempted to reverse sweep Michael Beer in the final moments.

Clarke did not dominate the bowling attack but was watchful, steady and unruffled with only the occasional flourishing drive to warn the bowlers of the weaponry at his disposal.

Three hours in the middle brought 78 and guaranteed the two first-innings points before Marsh made neat amends for his error by pouching the next offering.

Clarke will have at least a month of State and club cricket before returning to Australian duties but will be hard pressed to find a more valuable stint against one paceman eager to return to international ranks, and another with the capacity to climb that high.

Mitch Johnson was full of controlled menace as he operated from a long but rhythmic run-up and asked plenty of hard questions of the batsmen.

The left-armer swung the new ball, hurried the batsmen with his pace and appeared poised to break through in every spell.

His final figures of 2-88 were poor reward for his effort.

But for all the talent and experience that have brought Johnson 400 international wickets, he was out-bowled by the luckless Coulter-Nile whose 2-84 was even less flattering.

The right-armer may not be on the leaderboard in Australia's pace pecking order but that will surely come if he continues to pair significant pace and uncomfortable bounce with sharp late swing.

Coulter-Nile had opener Scott Henry dropped early by Adam Voges, who spent much of the day off the field with a stiff back, had Clarke missed before getting his revenge while he undid the vastly experienced Brad Haddin with a clever change of movement.

Nathan Rimmington knows that glamour does not sit well on all players, particularly those whose task it is to plug away in a support role, but that does not diminish their value.

He claimed two wickets in his 10th over and added another two as he trapped the dangerous Steve Smith for a duck and ended Moises Henriques's late rampage at 78.

The West Australian

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