CAPE TOWN - David Warner hit a century and captain Michael Clarke battled his way back into form as Australia dominated the first day of the series-deciding third and final Test against South Africa at Newlands on Saturday. Warner put a week of controversy behind him and hit a sparkling 135 off 162 balls in an Australian total of 331 for three.
Clarke, who twice needed treatment after being hit, went past 24 for the first time in 12 Test innings to make 92 not out on a day when South Africa lost strike bowler Dale Steyn with a hamstring injury midway through the afternoon. South African bowling coach Allan Donald said Steyn was "feeling stiff" but said the fast bowler would have a fitness test before play on Sunday.
But he added: "If you lose your gun bowler the rest are going to have to step up." It was the second time in successive matches that South Africa have lost a bowler after deciding to play with only four specialists. Wayne Parnell suffered a groin strain in the second Test in Port Elizabeth. Warner was fined 15 percent of his match fee and criticised by his captain, Clarke, after making "inappropriate comments" suggesting ball tampering by South Africa after the second Test. But if the left-handed opening batsman was affected by the controversy he showed no sign of it.
He was in charge from virtually the first ball he faced after Clarke won the toss and claimed first use of what Donald described as a "fantastic" pitch for batting. Warner did not attend the post-play press conference. Instead former Australian spin bowling great Shane Warne, in South Africa as a spin bowling consultant, heaped praise on him. "Davey set the tone first up," said Warne. "He puts pressure on the opposition captain by how fast he scores and the way he scores. I saw a sign of maturity from David Warner today. He got a couple of singles to point then when they brought point up he hit a couple of fours. So he's not just smashing the ball, he's quite clever about it."
Warne also praised the courage of Clarke, who took a pounding from tall fast bowler Morne Morkel. Clarke was struck on the left forearm, the shoulder and was felled by a blow to the cheek before being hit on the gloves. Late in the day he was struck on the right thumb when Morkel was bowling with the second new ball. "He's got four, maybe five ice packs on him," said Warne. "He could have tried to hit his way out of trouble but instead he went the other way and said, 'You can hit my body but you're not going to get me out'." Donald said Warner had played an excellent innings, while Clarke had shown great courage. "Michael took a lot of blows for his team. Australia played with intent and the bad balls were put away." But he said Morkel was unlucky. "Morne was absolutely outstanding. The way he bowled today was worth at least three wickets." Warne said Australia were in a strong position on a dry pitch which he said had already started to offer uneven bounce. "It's going to be very hard to bat last," said Warne. Warner reached his fourth successive score of 50 or better after facing just 50 balls and went to his seventh Test century off 104 deliveries. Warner shared partnerships of 65 for the first wicket with Chris Rogers, who started Autralia's dominance by hitting two fours in the first over by Steyn, 73 for the second wicket with Alex Doolan and 79 for the third wicket with Clarke.
Clarke and Steve Smith pressed home the advantage with an unbeaten fourth wicket stand of 114. Smith became the third batsman to notch a half-century, finishing the day on 50 not out, made off 92 balls. After surviving five dropped catches in his previous three innings of 115, 70 and 66, Warner did not offer a chance, although when he was on 95 the South Africans thought he had been caught behind down the leg side by AB de Villiers off Steyn.
He was given not out by umpire Aleem Dar. South Africa sought a review but replays showed the ball had deflected off his thigh pad, not his bat. Clarke and Steve Smith scored freely against the second new ball, adding 37 runs in six overs before the close. Clarke faced 191 balls, hitting nine fours.
AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS:
C Rogers c Smith b Steyn 25
D Warner c De Villiers b Duminy 135
A Doolan c Steyn b Philander 20
M Clarke not out 92
S Smith not out 50
EXTRAS: (nb4, w5) 9
TOTAL: (3 wkts, 88 overs) 331
FOW: 1-65, 2-138, 3-217
BOWLING: Steyn 10.1-0-44-1, Philander 19-2-66-1, Morkel 17.5-2-69-0, Duminy 9-0-37-1, Abbott 17-5-52-0, Elgar 15-0-63-0
SOUTH AFRICA: G Smith, A Petersen, D Elgar, H Amla, A de Villiers, F du Plessis, J Duminy, V Philander, K Abbott, D Steyn, M Morkel
UMPIRES: Aleem Dar (PAK), Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)
TV UMPIRE: Richard Illingworth (ENG)
MATCH REFEREE: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)