South Africa were forced to scrap their way through an uncomfortable final day of the first Test against a Michael Clarke-inspired Australia yesterday to save a match they had once looked like winning.
Australia captain Clarke, who made a brilliant unbeaten 259, declared on 565-5 midway through the morning session of the final day with a first-innings lead of 115, but his bowlers were unable to make the inroads they needed to force a result.
Jacques Rudolph was adjudged leg before wicket to spinner Nathan Lyon to give the hosts a late glimmer of hope, but A.B. de Villiers (29) and Vernon Philander (1) ushered the tourists to safety at the close of play on 166-5.
Australia may have come up short, but they will take a great deal of confidence from their performance against the No. 1 Test side in the world into the last two matches of the series in Adelaide and Perth.
“Our attitude was spot on today with the ball,” said Clarke, who was named man of the match. “We were quite aggressive with our approach. I think we bowled a lot better today and we seemed to get better through this Test match. So there are a lot of positives come of this Test. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a win, but we can certainly use the momentum that we take from this game to Adelaide.”
Clarke, who resumed on 218 with his team on 487-4, again sparkled with the bat in the morning sunshine, adding 41 runs to his personal tally and taking the record for the highest individual score at the Gabba.
To have any chance of the win was a remarkable turnaround for Australia, who were reeling at 40-3 when Clarke took to the crease on Sunday afternoon.
“All in all, I think for me a draw was an even reflection on how the surface played,” said South Africa captain Graeme Smith, who rued the day lost to rain when South Africa were in control. “I felt we were ahead of the game going into day four, we just never quite backed up well enough. Michael and [Ed] Cowan played really well, took the game to us, and we didn’t quite respond in the way I’ve got use to our guys responding.”
Having declared, James Pattinson, the pick of Australia’s bowlers, gave them an early breakthrough by having opener Alviro Petersen caught behind by wicketkeeper Matthew Wade for 5 to leave South Africa on 6-1.
The 22-year-old seamer also bowled Hashim Amla for 7 before lunch, but the world’s No. 1 batsman was brought back to the crease for a no-ball, the fourth wicket to be saved by the same infraction in the match.
The second wicket also came off Pattinson, who had a fiery exchange with Smith (23), before tempting the South Africa captain into an outside-edge that Rob Quiney claimed well at gully.
Australia fruitlessly used both of their referrals as they ramped up the pressure on the South Africa batsmen, and just when Amla and Jacques Kallis looked to be getting on top of the bowlers they were separated.
Amla aimed a loose shot at a Peter Siddle delivery he could have left and the ball went straight to Mike Hussey at short-cover.
Jacques Kallis, who backed up his first-innings 147 with a 49, appeared on course to guide South Africa to safety, but fell to spinner Lyon with Clarke taking an excellent low catch in the slips.
By then, though, Australia’s chance of a win was all but gone.
Clarke, 31, had shared a partnership of 228 with Hussey, who reached his 17th Test century in a quickfire 128 balls with a rushed single, before being dismissed by the next delivery he faced.