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Clarke ready to move up the order
Michael Clarke after his double century. Pic: Reuters

Michael Clarke has flagged a move to No.3 or No.4 to bolster Australia's shaky top order after maintaining his superb run with the bat since becoming Test captain.

Clarke's unbeaten 218 at the Gabba yesterday, his third double century of the year, helped Australia sweep to 4-487 and ignite thoughts of an unlikely victory.

"I would like another 70 runs and then have a bowl before lunch," Clarke said.

"We will have a go for sure.

"The key is to be positive and give ourselves a couple of sessions to bowl South Africa out."

While Clarke passed 1000 runs for the year and continues to impose himself on world cricket, a maiden century from opener Ed Cowan killed speculation about his place in the team.

Batting with greater freedom and authority than in his previous seven Tests, Cowan compiled 136 before providing South Africa with their only success when run out off bowler Dale Steyn's fingers at the non-striker's end.

The pair produced a record 259-run stand for the fourth wicket before Clarke and Mike Hussey (86 not out) piled on the pain for South Africa with their own 188-run partnership.

Clarke may have been tempted to declare behind South Africa's 450 once the follow-on had been avoided, either in an unlikely bid to squeeze a victory or to earn momentum before the second Test, but elected to grind South Africa's pace attack into the lifeless Gabba turf.

Clarke's sixth century as captain follows scores of 112, 151, 139, 329 not out and 210 since succeeding Ricky Ponting nearly two years ago.

And he could replace Ponting further up the order should a move be required to better combat South Africa's attack.

While debutant Rob Quiney is set to hold the No.3 position if Shane Watson is not fit to play the second Test in Adelaide, Clarke recognised that it may be time for him to move up to a pivotal place in the order.

Clarke has relished the responsibility of captaincy - he averages 64.72 since taking the helm compared to his previous return of 46.97.

He appears the most technically equipped and temperamentally suited batsman to take on No.3.

"I have considered the move," he said. "I have spoken to (batting coach) Justin Langer and spent time talking to Ricky about it.

"At the moment Rob is best suited to No.3 in this Test match and hopefully he grabs the opportunity, but I have said for a while it doesn't bother me where I bat."

Former South African great Barry Richards said it was imperative that Clarke moved up the order and that his ability to change the momentum of an innings, a trait of all Test cricket's greatest batsmen, meant he was missing a chance to improve his team.

"He can't bat outside the top four," Richards said.

"The team needs him higher."

It is a mark of Clarke's counter-punching ability that he has taken part in all four of Australia's fourth-wicket century partnerships against South Africa when the team has been 3-40 or worse.