A captain's knock to win over doubters

It seems ludicrous to suggest that someone with more than 16,000 runs who was recently crowned world player of the year would have much, if anything, to prove. But when it comes to Michael Clarke he always seems to need to do more to appease the (diminishing) number of people who merely tolerate him as captain.

Day one of the series-deciding Test against South Africa was not within a bull's roar of being Clarke's prettiest or most proficient innings. It was, nevertheless, one of the most pivotal of a captaincy reign nearing its third full year.

The last time Clarke was in Cape Town he set himself apart by swashbuckling his way to 151 when his 10 teammates contributed only 116. This time around his example was of a leader who would ignore physical torment in order to keep his wicket intact.

Cricket Australia would be wise to package the day-one barrage Clarke withstood from Morne Morkel on a DVD and make it standard issue to batsmen making their first-class debut in the Sheffield Shield.

When the towering paceman was at his most brutal in a midday spell, Clarke managed only three runs off him in the space of 20 deliveries – the ball hitting body more than bat. He was hit on the elbow, he was hit on the jaw, he was hit on the finger. It was almost easier to list where he was not hit. He was made to look so helpless that, ironically, whenever he managed to get back on strike to Morkel it brought loud cheers from the Newlands crowd. But he survived.

South African captain Graeme Smith spilled a tough slips chance off Clarke on 26, but it was the absolute least the Australian warranted given the commitment he had demonstrated.

While Clarke downplayed the fact he twice eschewed scheduled days off in the past week to do nets training – arguing that he always trained hard – there was no doubt watching him on Wednesday in the nets, when he offered his prized training bat to any local bowler who could dismiss him, about how driven he was to find form after a disappointing series.

By the time Morkel returned with the second new ball on Saturday Clarke looked a different batsman, most notably when he nonchalantly pulled one of the right-armer's bouncers to the mid-wicket boundary. But still Morkel was menacing enough for force another visit from team physio Alex Kountouris, who wore a path between the pitch and the dressing room.

Clarke did not finish day one with a century - that arrived on the following morning - but he finished it was respect, even from his most ardent critics.

Well played, skipper. Well played.

This story A captain's knock to win over doubters first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.