Khawaja marked his SCG homecoming with a superb 137
Stuart Broad turned his sense of injustice into an Ashes five-for on his recall in Sydney but it was an Australian with a point to prove who claimed the spotlight on day two of the fourth Test.
Usman Khawaja has waited almost two and a half years to earn a recall in the Baggy Green, and only got it thanks to Travis Head’s Covid-19 diagnosis, but he marked his SCG homecoming with a superb 137 as the hosts took control with a score of 416 for eight declared.
For England, Broad’s return of five for 101 was both a glimmer of positivity on another gruelling day Down Under and a cause of nagging regret. The 35-year-old has made it clear he felt aggrieved to be left out at both Brisbane and Melbourne when the series was still alive and, as he often does, he matched word with deed.
Without his ability to create chances – he had a handful of close calls aside from his regular successes – England would have been staring at even grimmer picture. Broad has taken 125 Test wickets against Australia, and five or more on eight occasions, and history may well judge that he was wrongly sidelined when the urn was on the line.
Tasked with facing 20 minutes before stumps Zak Crawley thought he had bagged a duck, but a rare stroke of fortune intervened as replays showed Mitchell Starc had overstepped for a no-ball. He and Haseeb Hameed will resume on 13 without loss on the third morning, with a hard shift ahead.
The tourists’ task will only get harder if the worst fears about Ben Stokes’ fitness are realised. He pulled up mid-over with a tight side and was unable to bowl in the last two sessions, raising concerns that he will only be at reduced capacity for the remainder of the trip.
England had taken two late wickets on the first evening and, probably for the first time in the whole tour, arrived at the ground feeling like they might be ahead of the game having restricted the score to 126 for three.
Instead, the first session was a staccato affair with three separate rain breaks and a distinct lack of rhythm. Khawaja took a back seat to Steve Smith initially, taking the junior share of 33 of the 83 runs before lunch while also giving an early taste of skills that would later carry him to a ninth Test hundred.
When Mark Wood tried a short ball he rolled his wrists on a textbook pull and his ability to negate Jack Leach shut the spinner’s options down from the off.
It was, therefore, a surprise when Leach took his outside edge on 28. It would have been a significant win for the left-armer but neither Jos Buttler nor Joe Root could take the catch. Buttler was not quite sharp enough to take it in the gloves, but the parry off his thigh took enough off the ball to leave his slip a simple take. Root, perhaps distracted by the ricochet, spilled a gentle chance.
If England knew then how much that moment would cost them, their visible frustration would surely have tipped into genuine anguish. Things were heading in that direction anyway in the next over when a gut-busting shift of short-pitched bowling from Stokes concluded with him clutching his side as he followed through – he departed the field to seek treatment.
At 209 for three England were banking on the second new ball to raise their spirits, but even getting there was costly as the last two overs of the old one were milked for 12 soft runs.
It fell to Broad to seize the moment and he obliged by getting the best of a nice tussle with Smith (67). Broad conceded a couple of fours as he went on the attack but almost had his man lbw following a bizarre leave.
Smith then waved the bat when Broad threw one up in the channel, nicking into the centre of Buttler’s gloves. Cameron Green, curiously sedate with the bat in this series, was next up and Broad quickly had him spraying a catch to Crawley at third slip.
At 242 for five, and buoyed by Broad, England had a chance. But Khawaja, embracing the leading man role, took it from them. After passing 50 he started to time his shots better and hit the ball harder.
He was too good for Leach and the consistent quality of his swivel pulls was grinding the seamer’s morale. Root’s off-breaks did for Alex Carey, as Jonny Bairstow took a tough over-the-shoulder catch, but they could not halt Khawaja. For a moment it seemed like Pat Cummins would, the skipper stealing the strike off Khawaja on 99 before leaving him just three balls to get over the line before tea.
In the end he only needed one, turning Leach off his pads before celebrating with the whole of the stadium he used to call home.
The remainder of the innings was desultory for England, as Australia piled on 95 in 23 overs after tea, the only ray of light coming when Broad’s leg-cutter finally did for Khawaja and sealed his five-for.
Even the timing of the declaration carried an air of dominance, coming immediately after tailender Nathan Lyon swiped Broad into the stands for six.