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DAY 2 REPORT: Khawaja’s classy ton puts Australia on course for fourth straight victory

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Expert
6th January, 2022
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Usman Khawaja’s century in his comeback game has put Australia in the box seat to win the fourth Test at the SCG while creating a welcome headache for the selectors and yet another one for England.

Recalled to fill in for Travis Head after he contracted COVID-19, Khawaja made the most of his first match at Test level since the 2019 Ashes by stroking a majestic 137 at his former home ground.

His 260-ball knock, which included 13 boundaries, propelled Australia from their overnight score of 3-126 to 8-416 before they declared to give England a dangerous little session to negotiate by stumps.

England’s under-pressure openers Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed were given a stern working over by Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc during the five-over stint but they just survived to be 0-13 overnight.

Crawley should have been out for a duck after nicking to David Warner at first slip but a video review showed Starc overstepped the mark.

Khawaja had his own slice of fortune – dropped by Joe Root at slip off a Jack Leach delivery which clipped keeper Jos Buttler’s gloves on 28.

The Queensland skipper departed late in the evening session when he inside-edged Stuart Broad onto his stumps and the Pakistan-born, Sydney-raised 35-year-old received a standing ovation from the SCG crowd.

Despite playing just one innings, he has scored more runs this series than all English players apart from Joe Root and Dawid Malan.

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Australia’s selectors now have to decide whether they retain Khawaja for the fifth Test or leave out Head, opener Marcus Harris or young all-rounder Cameron Green.

Broad was the one bright spot for the tourists with the veteran seamer also celebrating his recall with 5-101, the 19th five-wicket haul in his illustrious career and eighth in Ashes Tests.

Khawaja unveiled a LeBron James style celebration after reaching his milestone in the last over before the tea break.

He started the day by batting through a rain-interrupted lengthy first session with Steve Smith and they put on 115 for the fourth wicket before the vice-captain departed on 67 when he dangled his bat outside off stump to a Broad delivery he could have left well alone.

Smith looked comfortable for most of the duration of his innings in his home city but his stretch of only one century since the 2019 Ashes has continued.

Green’s struggles with the bat continued when he was caught in the slips off Broad for five and four of his runs came via a snick through the cordon.

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At 5-242, England had a chance to limit the damage but Khawaja added a 43-run stand with Alex Carey (13), another 55 with Cummins (24) and 67 with Starc (34 not out) as the tail wagged Australia into a dominant position.

Cummins has rarely put a step wrong this tour since assuming the captaincy and after retaining the strike heading into the last over before tea with a single and Khawaja on 99, he quickly rotated the strike for the left-hander.

Khawaja turned Jack Leach to deep backward square leg for three, roaring with delight as he completed the third run to bring up his ninth Test ton and his first since making an unbeaten 101 against Sri Lanka in Canberra in 2019.

It was deja vu for the tourists – coincidentally, Khawaja hit a hundred against England on the same ground four years ago to the day on the way to making 171 as Australia won by an innings to wrap up a 4-0 Ashes series domination.

His latest ton means Australia still have a chance of going up 4-0 after rain halved the first day’s play, keeping alive the hopes of a series whitewash in Hobart next Friday.

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Starc has risen above Ben Stokes in the ICC Test all-rounder rankings and continued his purple patch with the bat to inflict more pain on England’s tiring bowlers.

He is now averaging 75.5 for the series after making 151 runs from five innings, including three unbeaten knocks.

Stokes strained a muscle in his side and after being unable to bowl for most of the day, is unlikely to roll his arm over again in the Test and may have to play as a specialist batter in the series finale.

After finally seeing the back of Khawaja, the English team then had to put up with tail-ender Nathan Lyon throwing his bat at the ball in search of quick runs before the declaration. The spinner whacked 16 off just seven deliveries, the last of which was a clean six over mid-wicket off Broad which prompted a smiling Cummins to call the innings closed.

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