Smith, Clarke flatten India on rainy day

Michael Clarke battled through severe back pain to make his 28th Test hundred, Steven Smith scored his fifth and the pair punished India’s inconsistent bowlers on a second day badly hit by rain. The pair racked up 163 for the sixth wicket through three long interruptions in play, hitting 21 fours in the 30 overs they batted together. Poor light ended play four deliveries after Clarke fell for 128.

Clarke, who had taken injections after retiring on 60 in the 44th over on day one, accompanied Smith out under gloomy skies in a start delayed by ten minutes. He winced as he pulled and hobbled more than he ran initially. Unable to lean fully forward, he stood on the crease and hit the fast bowlers. He used his feet to spin, dragging himself to the other end if a run was available, or lurching back to the crease if it wasn’t. His mobility improved gradually, but even late in the day, he was gingerly taking the twos.

India were unable to test even a half-fit Clarke. Their fast bowlers had been too full and wide at the start of the match. This morning, they pulled their lengths back too much. Ishant Sharma, their best bowler on day one, started short and wide to be put way for four by Smith. Mohammed Shami did the same first ball of the next over, and Clarke helped himself this time.

Both batsmen brought up emotional hundreds. Clarke celebrated quietly with an intensely expressive face after coming through a bouncer burst from round the stumps on 98. Smith walked up to where 408, Phillip Hughes‘ Test cap number, had been painted on the ground and stood there to look up at the sky.

Smith then set about the Indian bowling with even more purpose and aggression, powering boundaries in limited-overs fashion. India had conceded 51 in the 12.2 overs leading into the first interruption. Between the second and the third, they leaked 50 in 7.3. Varun Aaron went for nearly six runs an over, Shami five, and the debutant legspinner Karn Sharma tallied over four. The lowest any of them conceded was 120.

Smith was in so much control he did pretty much whatever he wanted to. He slogged Aaron just past the bowler’s head for four, he made room and drilled Shami through the covers, he reverse-swept Karn from outside leg stump.

He did offer a simple stumping chance when he missed a charge at Karn, but Wriddhiman Saha, having kept for 109 overs, could not collect. Smith was reprieved again off Karn, on 161, when Ishant put down a diving chance at long leg. Clarke swept the next ball straight to square leg, and Mitchell Johnson walked in. The only plus for India was that he had a bat in hand, and not the new ball.

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