Usman Khawaja's comeback century puts Australia in command

Usman Khawaja’s comeback century puts Australia in command


Zak Crawley reprieved after being caught off a no-ball late in the day

England 0 for 13 (Hameed 2*, Crawley 2*) trail Australia 8 for 416 dec (Khawaja 137, Smith 67, Broad 5-101) by 403 runs

Usman Khawaja has produced a comeback century of the highest class to put Australia in another commanding position at stumps on day two of the fourth Test against England at the SCG.
Khawaja’s silky 137 from 260 balls underpinned Australia’s 8 declared for 416, but it would have been more without a magnificent lone hand with the ball from Stuart Broad. After writing publicly about his frustrations at being left out in two of the first three Tests, Broad backed up his words with his 19th Test five-wicket haul including the crucial wickets of Khawaja and Steven Smith for 67, having knocked over David Warner on day one.

England had to face a frightful five overs before stumps and Zak Crawley got a major reprieve. He nicked Mitchell Starc to first slip with Warner taking the catch head high. As Crawley walked off for what would have been a 12-ball duck, replays showed Starc had overstepped. Extras were the major contributor as the ball nipped and bounced prodigiously but Haseeb Hameed and Crawley survived another brutal examination from Starc and Pat Cummins.

Khawaja was the star of the day for Australia. Playing his first Test in more than two years after he was dropped during the 2019 Ashes, he made his ninth Test century in his 45th Test, and his first in an Ashes series since making 171 in the SCG Ashes Test four years ago. Khawaja’s innings was proof he remains one of Australia’s best batters despite only playing due to Travis Head’s Covid-19 diagnosis.

He was calm and composed throughout on a pitch that was not the traditional SCG batting paradise. He played some sparkling pull shots off Mark Wood and Broad and attacked Jack Leach and Joe Root with his full repertoire, scoring boundaries via reverse sweeps, cover drives and pull shots. Beyond his trademark stroke play, his ability to withstand some excellent spells of fast bowling was particularly noteworthy. As Australia lost Smith and Cameron Green in quick succession when Broad made the second new ball talk, Khawaja calmly kept the good balls out and was unflustered as several misbehaved on a surface becoming increasingly uneven.

He did offer one chance on 28 that England will rue. Leach had barely troubled him on a leg stump line from around the wicket, but finally pitched outside off and found the outside edge as Khawaja prodded forward. The edge went past Jos Buttler’s gloves and deflected off his thigh before floating to Joe Root’s right, but the skipper failed to grasp it.

From then on Khawaja was flawless and had the crowd so engrossed and invested that they booed Australia captain and New South Wales darling, Cummins, in the penultimate over before tea when Cummins retained the strike with an untimely single. But the skipper was immediately back in the good books, sneaking a single early in the next over to give Khawaja three balls to reach his century before the break. He only needed one with a neat tuck behind square sparking a standing ovation.

Earlier in the day, Khawaja shared a 115-run stand with Smith, their seventh together in Tests, their third at the SCG and their first since the last Ashes Test in Sydney in 2018. He also shared invaluable stands with Cummins and Starc. The latter was worth 67 to help Australia press to 400 with Starc making 34 not out, his third score of 30-plus for the series.

Smith looked destined for a century of his own as he cruised to his second fifty of the series and his sixth consecutive fifty at the SCG. His only concern in the opening session, where Australia made 83 without loss, was keeping his bat dry as several brief showers interrupted play momentarily.

Smith looked impenetrable. He played a contemptuous on-drive off James Anderson’s first ball after one rain delay. He also picked off anything fractionally straight and dealt with an unsuccessful short-ball barrage that left Ben Stokes wicketless and unable to bowl for the rest of the day. Stokes failed to complete his 14th over due to sharp pain in his left side. He left the field with grave concerns but returned after lunch and fielded without issue.

But Broad stopped Smith in his tracks with his outstanding spell with the second new ball. In one over he deceived Smith completely as he shouldered arms to a good length ball that hit him in front of middle and leg. But it had seamed back considerably and he was given not out, and the decision was proven correct as England lost a review proving it was missing leg stump. Broad got his man for the ninth time in Test cricket two balls later as he turned Smith inside out with a back-of-a-length leg cutter that took the outside edge. Broad added to his haul finding Cameron Green’s outside edge with a fuller cutter. Green’s struggles in the series continued as the only boundary in his 5 came from a nick that went between first and second slip.

Alex Carey missed a golden chance to cash in against a weary attack, holing out for just 13 trying to slog-sweep Root from the rough outside off. It was Root’s seventh wicket in England’s last three Ashes tours in Australia making him the equal-most successful England spinner across those tours.

Broad returned later to bounce out Cummins with a brutal lifter that brushed the top of the bat handle on the way through to Buttler. He also knocked over Khawaja with a beauty late in the day. It was another leg cutter that nipped off the seam, caught the inside edge and ricocheted onto leg stump.

Broad had been described as a caged lion prior to the Test by England assistant coach Graham Thorpe and his five wickets was just reward for a lion-hearted effort. He also went past Bob Willis to claim the second-most Ashes wickets for England behind Ian Botham, and became the second-oldest visiting quick to claim a five-wicket haul in Australia behind Sir Richard Hadlee. He did suffer the ignominy of Nathan Lyon launching his last ball into the stands at midwicket but he deserved the warm applause he got walking off after Australia’s declaration.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo