Adelaide: Michael Clarke set a benchmark in Test cricket that surpasses even the great Don Bradman's best years when he stroked his fourth double century of 2012 with a stunning, unbeaten 224 against South Africa. It was a recently as January last year that an Australian crowd booed him as he walked on to the field during a barren patch. On Thursday, he had 16,500 people on their feet applauding him at the Adelaide Oval for becoming the first batsmen to ever score four double centuries in a calendar year.
The Australia captain has now scored a combined 483 runs in two innings without getting out against South Africa, the No. 1-ranked team in the world. The 31-year-old Clarke started the year with a career-high knock of 329 not out at Sydney and 210 at Adelaide in January against India. His two more against South Africa take him past the usually incomparable Bradman, who scored three double centuries in an Ashes series in England in 1930. While Bradman's Test average of 99.94 is out of every modern batsman's reach, Clarke certainly deserves credit for his form since assuming the captaincy from Ricky Ponting after the 2011 World Cup.
He has scored one-third of his 21 Test centuries since then, and turned all of his hundreds into big innings this year. "There's certainly no secret, a lot of luck goes a long way, that's for sure," said Clarke, who wasn't drawn into making any comparisons with Bradman. "Again, I use the words of (Shane Warne) that he told me a long time ago, that the better the bowling the more positive you've got to be." Clarke was a brash youngster when he scored 151 on Test debut against India in 2004, making a quick name for himself in a team containing some of the best players of the modern era.
But the public grew tired of his penchant for fast cars, fashion statements and model girlfriends when he failed to live up to talents. Until he smashed his career-high 329 not out against India in January, his highest Test score had been 168. Since that innings against India, he has scored a power of runs and turned his image around. "When you look at the innings I've made big scores, it's the counter-attack, it's the being positive, it's playing my natural game and there's risk there," Clarke explained of his make-or-break approach. "As Graeme (Smith) and AB (de Villiers) reminded me a few times today I had a lot of (luck), there's no doubt about that but you need it in this game."
Both times against South Africa, he has gone to the crease with Australia three wickets down and in trouble. Both times he has responded with aggression and style. He plundered 36 boundaries and a six on day one at Adelaide, and only gave the South Africans a couple of half-chances. "Look, it's really nice to be making runs and I guess the downside to this great game is when you're not, you find it really hard to find your next run," he said. "And that's happened a lot for me, I guess, through my career and I got dropped. And I remember when I came back from getting dropped that I said I want to make the most of the good days.
"And that's all I really feel I'm doing. I feel like when I'm getting in, I'm trying to cash in because I know there will be some tough days around the corner again." Clarke has risen to the challenge of the Australian captaincy and matured with each month, more settled since he married TV presenter Kyly Boldy in May and moved house. After reaching his double century, he faced the pavilion and pumped his arms five times in the air before waving his bat and his helmet. He said it was to acknowledge his teammates and his family.
"It's special for everybody that has thrown their support behind me and the people that are close to you have been there through good days and bad days, whether that's on the field with cricket or off the field in my personal life," he said. "My dedication is certainly to my teammates first and foremost, but also to people who have stood beside me in good and bad days."