Usman Khawaja became the new king of the SCG achieving the stunning feat of twin centuries in an Ashes Test to put Australia in a position to keep the whitewash alive if they can take 10 England wickets on the final day.
Khawaja reached rare air in his comeback Test after being left out of the side for two-and-a-half years. His second-innings 101 not out saw him become the third man behind Doug Walters and Ricky Ponting to score twin hundreds at the SCG, the ninth to do it in an Ashes Test and just the 10th player in Test history to score twin centuries in a Test batting at No.5 or lower. Incredibly Khawaja’s match tally of 238 runs moved him past every single England player’s series tally bar Joe Root.
Cameron Green made his second-highest Test score of 74 and put on the highest partnership of the series with Khawaja, 179, to take Australia from a wobbly position at 4 for 86, to a declaration where they could set England 388 to win with a day and an hour to play.
But England’s maligned opening pair of Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed weathered another probing examination from Australia’s quicks to steer the visitors safely to stumps as storm clouds engulfed the SCG. They put on their highest partnership of the series, 30, and survived 11 overs under floodlights to leave England an improbable 358 to win on the final day or 98 overs to survive, weather permitting.
Khawaja looked a class above on a surface where most players in the game have struggled. He was patient early as the pitch’s uneven bounce made scoring difficult. He helped guide Green through a nervous period prior to tea as Jack Leach caused some problems with inconsistent spin and bounce.
He began after tea on 35 and then unleashed an assault on Leach and Root. Yet again it was a combination of reverse sweeps and slog sweeps that did the damage. Two slog sweeps went 20 rows back while he cut, pulled and drove the quicks with typical elegance. He scored 66 runs off 64 balls after tea and soaked in a standing ovation upon reaching his century.
Green was equally destructive in the latter stages of the partnership after fighting through yet another nervous start. His technique has been scrutinised throughout the series having scored 52 runs in four innings. But it was as much his mind as his technique that was tying him in knots.
He fought through a stern test of his defence from Leach and the quicks. Consecutive boundaries off James Anderson broke the shackles. Anderson overpitched and he drove him straight, before Anderson overcorrected short and Green unfurled a brutal pull shot. He produced two more cracking pulls off the extra pace of Mark Wood, one to bring up his half-century in fine style. He also thumped a cut forward of square off Wood and launched Leach over long-on into the crowd. He fell unselfishly pushing for more runs prior to the declaration that oddly came three overs after Khawaja reached his century and two overs after the final drinks break.
Alex Carey was incredibly sent out to bat after Green fell skying Leach straight up. Carey was out first ball also attempting a sweep. It came off pad onto the back of the bat in his follow-through and was expertly caught by stand-in wicketkeeper Ollie Pope. He was keeping because both Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler were off the field during Australia’s entire innings having had scans on their respective finger injuries.
Ben Stokes also didn’t bowl in the innings but fielded for all 68.5 overs. Pope snared four catches, equalling the most by a substitute fielder in a Test and matching Wriddhiman Saha’s efforts for India as a substitute keeper at the SCG last year. Leach finished with four wickets but was denied a chance at a hat-trick when Cummins finally declared.
England’s openers played well under the floodlights as the pitch appeared to play fewer tricks in the last hour after the heavy roller had been on it in the innings break. Scott Boland did get one to leap from a length at Crawley and catch the shoulder of the bat, but it ballooned safely over the cordon.
It was a far better display of batting in the last hour of the day than what was seen in the first hour of the fourth day when Boland continued his staggering start to his Test career by claiming 4 for 36 as England were bowled out for 294 in their first innings.
Boland knocked over Jonny Bairstow for 113 with some extra bounce, feathering a nick through to Carey. That came after Jack Leach holed out with a wild slog sweep to mid-on off Nathan Lyon while Stuart Broad swung lustily for 15 before skying Boland straight up to be caught by Carey. England made their second-highest total of the series, but they still have not breached 300 for the entire tour.
Australia reached 1 for 52 in their second innings after the early loss of David Warner, who edged Wood behind. But they lost 3 for 34 in a nervous 10-over period. Marcus Harris again threw away a start, edging a half-volley from Leach on 27 to be well caught by Pope up to the stumps. Harris has four scores of 20-plus in a row and just one half-century to show for it.
Marnus Labuschagne fell caught behind to Wood for the third time in three innings. Again, he was flashing off the back foot and again he was beaten by Wood’s pace. Wood has bowled 25 balls at Labuschagne in three innings and taken 3 for 12.
Steve Smith looked comfortable until Leach skidded one through him as he tried to play too square off the back foot and lost his middle stump. But that was the last wicket England would take for 40 overs as Khawaja and Green put them to the sword.