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FLEM’S VERDICT: Uzzy's twin ton masterclass the two best knocks of Ashes series

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Expert
8th January, 2022
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Usman Khawaja batted tough, batted smart and batted with great skill and power to bat England out of the fourth Test.

Two centuries in his comeback Test, you can’t ask for anything more than that. I think they’re the two best knocks of the series, they were sublime.

It was a tricky time in the game when Steve Smith got out but he didn’t panic, he got the singles when he could and when he got the opportunity to play some shots, he excelled. It was street-smart batting.

The pull shots against the quicks was sensational and his reverse sweeping, a shot he didn’t have until a few years ago but has added to his armoury, was as good as his cover drives.

There’s a calmness to him at the crease and off the field as well. It seems to me with a growing family, cricket is not the be-all and end-all of his life but he wants to take every opportunity when they come along.

I’m still hearing that he’s not necessarily going to get another go in the fifth Test but if Harris doesn’t make the most of another opportunity then you’d have to open with Uzzy when they go to Pakistan for their tour in March.

Pakistani pitches are not raging turners like India and Sri Lanka so there should be good batting wickets there for him.

It would be such a great story with him going back to the country where he was born – it’ll be massive for him, Pakistan cricket, relations between the countries.

There’s a Test championship to be won and that’s not too long in the future. There is no dead rubber, they all count for points.

He’s pressuring the selectors, he’s pressuring the opposition bowlers and he’s pressuring his teammates to perform and that’s a good thing for Australian cricket.

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And another good thing for this team now and the future is Cameron Green getting 74, finding some form with the bat.

That’s two half-centuries he’s scored in his brief Test career in second innings when the team’s been setting up for a declaration. The challenge for him now is to flick the switch when there’s no declaration on but he’s getting himself in and then think I’m going to start to increase the intensity.

A few of those drives and hook shots we saw at the SCG today, there’s thunderous power in him. He’s technically pretty good.

At 22 years of age, it was just another glimpse at what we’ve got on our hands with him and I hope he takes a lot of confidence out of that innings.

I thought Steve Smith was on his way to a big score. He was batting beautifully again – there was a pull shot and a cover drive that was Smithy at his best but then he got out for 23.

There’s not that unrelenting bat machinery that we saw from him a couple of years ago. He’s got 11 fifties and 11 hundreds in Ashes Tests – he’s got a really good strike rate of turning starts into tons but that’s gone in reverse in the last two years, there’s a lot of starts but only one hundred.

Green and Khawaja benefitted from some tactical blunders by Joe Root. To open the bowling with spin at both ends after tea with Jack Leach and himself allowed the Aussie pair to score at four or five an over without playing any high-risk shots.

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We were thinking they were going to make it tough for the Australians but they let them dictate when they made their declaration.

And that was too late by Pat Cummins. They should have declared at the drinks break. To then go back out and then send Alex Carey out for a slog and he gets out first ball, didn’t do anyone any good.

It’s another man who’s finding his feet at Test level and a first-ball duck doesn’t help him. I don’t think they looked after him there. He should have had his keeping gloves and pads on and not his batting ones.

If Khawaja and Green were walking off not out soon after Uzzy’s hundred, it would have been a much cleaner declaration. Momentum wise, it’s pretty significant as opposed to is Carey coming out, oh he’s coming out, now he’s out, now they’ve gone off.

It was an unnecessarily late declaration which if it was done at drinks, would have given them another few overs at the English top order late in the day.

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And with so much uncertainty about the weather tomorrow, that extra time could be crucial.

Everything else worked pretty well for Australia today. They started off by getting those last three wickets to finish off the English innings and Scott Boland continued his electrifying start to his Test cricket career.

If we get a full day of brilliant weather like today, I can only see this ending with an Australian win.

Nathan Lyon will play a bigger part with the ball for the Aussies and I hope Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes are fit enough to bat again.

For England, I’d be hoping like what they’ve got in the first innings, to be competitive and show some fight like Bairstow and Stokes did.

Zak Crawley has shown some signs he’s up for the fight so if he can get a big score tomorrow, they’ve found a guy who can bat in their top order potentially for a long time.

For them it would be enormous for them to save the game but I just suspect this unrelenting Australian attack with the variety they have and the uneven bounce in the pitch that they’ll grind the Poms down and go 4-0 up.

Weather gods, please look after us.

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