SHAFAQNA – Grimacing and wracked with pain, Michael Clarke built a century which outweighed his 27 others as rain on Wednesday added to the sense of pathos hanging over the first cricket test between Australia and India.
Clarke made 128 – his 28th century in tests, his 17th in Australia, his seventh against India, his seventh at the Adelaide Oval – joining with Steve Smith, who made a career-best unbeaten 162 to lead Australia to 517-7 when bad light ended play on the second day.
More than anything, this was Clarke’s first century since the death of Phillip Hughes, and it had to be achieved by the submission of physical and emotional pain.
Clarke set himself the task of achieving a century in Hughes’ memory and, after watching David Warner (145), then Smith precede him to the milestone, found the courage to honor Hughes as he wished.
As a player for South Australia, the Adelaide Oval was Hughes’ last home ground before his death, aged 25, on Nov. 27. The rain that hung over the ground on Wednesday, delaying the start by 10 minutes and forcing lengthy delays three times before ending play in gloom an hour after scheduled stumps, added to the sense of pathos and mourning.
It contributed, also, to a mood of expectancy as first Smith, then Clarke approached their centuries, then were hampered by rain delays.
Smith, who played with Hughes throughout their junior careers, then for New South Wales and finally Australia, was on 98 when rain washed out the morning session after only 56 minutes. Clarke was 85 not out and Australia, after resuming at 354-6, was 405-6 when the umpires brought forward the lunch break.
Smith went to his century from the first ball after the resumption and followed Warner in emotionally acknowledging Hughes, fans, and teammates before embracing Clarke.
He batted 231 minutes, faced 172 balls, and hit 14 boundaries, and he helped Australia stand against a changing tide late on the first day when India captured three quick wickets to put itself back in the match.
“I enjoy batting with Michael,” Smith said. “He always gets off strike well and he’s always busy at the crease.
“He was obviously struggling a little bit with his injury but he got through that, and did a great job.”
Warner was also a junior contemporary of Hughes’, Clarke his closest friend among the current Australian team, and it seemed also eerily significant that each, in turn, achieved a century to honor their fallen teammate.
Rain also forced Clarke to wait longer for the moment. He was 98 and only 11 balls had been bowled in the second session when rain again chased players from the field. The sense of frustration, of thwarted expectation was so great that fans angrily booed as the players left the field for the longest of the day’s rain breaks.
When they returned almost two hours later, Clarke took a single from Varun Aaron to advance to 99, then another single — a moment both low key and momentous in its context — to reach his century.
Tears flowed as they have so often in the past two weeks. Since Hughes died, two days after being struck by a ball in a domestic match, Clarke has been the articulate spokesman for the grief-stricken.
His achievement on Wednesday may have been cathartic for the Australian team, its captain, and its fans, who, when Australia reached 408 – matching Hughes’ cap number – rose to their feet to offer their personal ovation.
On Wednesday, Clarke was again their emissary as he achieved the century that paid what may be the last but greatest tribute to Hughes’ memory. He was finally out for 128 late in the final session as fatigue bore down on him.
Between rain showers, Australia added 163 runs for the loss of Clarke’s wicket, and a declaration was likely overnight or early Thursday to allow its pace bowlers to start fresh without needing to bat.