Michael Clarke's 218 puts Australia on front foot

Ed Cowen

Australia captain Michael Clarke scored a brilliant unbeaten double century to give the hosts a remarkable 37-run first innings lead on the fourth day of the first test against South Africa on Monday.

Supported first by a maiden century from opener Ed Cowan in a record stand of 259, and then by Mike Hussey's 86 not out, Clarke's 218 helped lift Australia from 40 for three when he took to the crease on Sunday to 487 for four when stumps were drawn.

It was Clarke's sixth test century, and his third double hundred, in the 15 tests since he was named captain last year in the wake of the Ashes humiliation and Australia's quarter-final exit at the World Cup.

Although by no means a chanceless knock, the 31-year-old played with patience when South Africa's vaunted pacemen got anything out of the Gabba track before punishing anything loose with some fine shot-making.

When he carried his bat back to the pavilion at the end of the day to the raucous cheers of a sparse crowd at the famous Brisbane ground, Clarke had faced 350 balls over 504 minutes and scored 21 fours.

I'm very happy with that, Clarke, who accumulated his 1,000 test run of the year during the innings, said in an interview on the boundary.

I didn't feel great at the start and I think Ed Cowan batted beautifully.

We're in a great position with a 30-odd lead. I'd like another 70 odd runs in the morning and then I want to have a crack with the ball. We'll see what happens.

Cowan departed for 136 in heartbreaking fashion just before tea, run out at the non-striker's end when Dale Steyn got a finger to a Clarke drive that hit the stumps and the opener was caught out of his crease backing up.

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