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Khawaja century puts hosts in control on second day

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Usman Khawaja plays a stroke
Usman Khawaja plays a stroke

Usman Khawaja scored a classy century to put Australia on top as England toiled on the second day of the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney.

Khawaja, playing his first Test since 2019, produced a well-crafted 137 as Australia declared on 416-8 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The 35-year-old left-hander received good support from Steve Smith with 67 and Mitchell Starc, who made an unbeaten 34.

Stuart Broad claimed a fine 5-101, including bowling Khawaja late in the day, but Australia held on to make England face a tricky 20 minutes with the bat. Zak Crawley was caught in the slips off a Starc no-ball in the penultimate over before England closed on 13-0. There were familiar problems for England, with Joe Root dropping Khawaja on 28 off Jack Leach, who again struggled for rhythm.

Ben Stokes also pulled up with a side injury midway through an over in the morning session and did not bowl for the rest of the day, despite returning to field. England are facing a tough task on a pitch that has begun to show variable bounce and with a batting line-up that is yet to pass 300 in the series.

Everything seemed to align for Khawaja as he made a century at the SCG, 11 years after scoring 37 on his debut against the same opposition at the same ground.

This was Khawaja’s first Test for two years after he was dropped in England, but his strong early season form for Queensland put him in contention for a recall before Travis Head contracted coronavirus.

He seemed to adjust quickly on the second day after a few early plays and misses, although he benefitted on 28 when Root put down a chance at slip off the beleaguered Leach.

Khawaja withstood the England pace bowlers and targeted Leach, cutting and driving him as the Somerset man struggled for control.

He was not overly flashy, mixing his elegant strokeplay with working a series of singles to grind England down and move towards three figures.

He was given a standing ovation by the crowd and his young family as he reached his ninth Test century, with Khawaja imitating basketball great LeBron James’ Silencer celebration to the delight of the fans.

Almost every change Australia have made in this series has worked – the only question for the selectors now is does Khawaja keep his place when Head returns for the final Test.

It was a mixed day for England, with the bowlers finding ways to trouble the batters before fatigue and errors crept in.

Broad, who said before the Test that he had been frustrated watching on from the sidelines, found pace and bounce to unsettle Smith in particular.

Smith seemed set for a century on his home ground but, visibly uncomfortable after being struck on the hand by Stokes, lost his concentration before edging a delivery from Broad behind.

Broad then dismissed Cameron Green in the same spell, the all-rounder sending a thick edge to Root at first slip, before a vicious short ball ended Pat Cummins’ stay.

Root’s part-time spin proved handy as Alex Carey slogged the ball up into the air and was well held by Jonny Bairstow, while Wood bowled consistently at 90mph and beat the bat on numerous occasions.

The concerns over Leach that crept in after his difficulties at the Gabba remain. Root set defensive fielders for him almost immediately and the spinner struggled for consistency, allowing Australia to work easy singles and disrupt him further.

He was unlucky not to dismiss Khawaja, with Root dropping the ball after it took a deflection off wicketkeeper Buttler’s hip, but Leach still lacks the control that England look for in a spinner.

England did have moments where they were on top but Australia were resilient. They buckled down in those moments, content to play out maidens and tire the bowlers out – something England have yet to do with the bat. (BBC)

Chief scores

Australia 416-8: Khawaja 137, Smith 67, Starc 34 not out, Broad 5-101

England 13-0: Hameed 2 not out, Crawley 2 not out

Friday, January 7, 2022 – 01:00

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