Time has come for Michael Clarke to bat No 3

JIM MORTON
Last updated 21:13 12/11/2012
Michael Clarke
Getty Images
CAPTAIN'S KNOCK: Michael Clarke plays a shot on his way to 259 not out in the first test against South Africa in Brisbane.

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If ever Michael Clarke needed to be convinced it's time to move up an inconsistent Australian top-order, his 20th test century proved it on Monday.

The in-form skipper underlined that he is his team's most-assured and best batsman at present with a double-century that dug the home side out of deep trouble in the first Test against South Africa.

Coming to the middle at 3-40 late Sunday, Clarke and Ed Cowan combined for a record fourth wicket partnership against South Africa, putting on 259 in almost six hours to power their team to safe ground.

While Cowan, who notched his maiden century in his eighth test to cement his opening position, was the feel-good story, Clarke's eight-hour knock continued his brilliant 2012.

He is the game's leading run-scorer for the calendar year - passing 1000 runs at a Bradman-like average of 111 - from seven Tests.

Since taking the captaincy from Ricky Ponting 15 months ago, leadership has well and truly agreed with him as he's registered six test tons, including his unbeaten 329 against India in the New Year's Test at the SCG.

While Clarke's averaged 60-plus in that time at No.5, the No.3 position has been a source of major concern for Australia.

Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson all took the role with little success before Rob Quiney debuted on Friday.

Selectors want to see Watson thrive there but the allrounder's bowling duties give him no time to mentally refresh after a stint in the field before padding up and he'd be better off moving down to No.5 for the available rest period.

Clarke admitted before the Gabba test that he'd considered shifting himself up to the problem position and had discussed the idea with Ponting and batting coach Justin Langer.

South African batting great Barry Richards is one who believes Clarke is too classy a player to be protected at third-drop and he should promote himself.

Clarke had moderate success as a No 4 early in his test career and has been reluctant to return to face a newer ball and receive more short-pitched bowling but his game has matured greatly since and he can play a more influential role up the order.

On test eve, the 31-year-old said he wasn't bothered where he batted.

With Australia's top-order regularly falling to three-for quickly in the past two years, and Clarke exposed to the new ball anyhow, he should at least move one spot higher to nip trouble in the bud before next year's Ashes.

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