Usman Khawaja’s twin centuries at the SCG has put Australia in complete command of the fourth Ashes Test. The hosts, after setting a mammoth 388-run target for England, managed to pick three wickets early on Day 5.
Khawaja, who scored 137 in the first innings in his first appearance since the 2019 Ashes series in England, was unbeaten at 101 off 138 balls as part of a 179-run partnership with Cameron Green.
The 35-year-old scored his first fifty off 86 balls, but then accelerated his scoring rate by playing some extravagant strokes and brought up his hundred just 45 balls later with a two off Dawid Malan.
It was just the third time that twin centuries have been made at the Sydney Cricket Ground with former Australia captain Ricky Ponting the last man to score two centuries in an SCG test — 2006 vs. South Africa.
Khawaja is the sixth player after Warren Bardsley, Arthur Morris, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Steven Smith to have scored two centuries in an Ashes Test.
However, he is not sure if he will get a spot in Australia’s playing 11 in the fifth Test at Hobart.
“At the moment I’m probably quite resigned to the fact that I will miss out. Talking to George Bailey and the selectors about continuity [and] I’m not totally against that process, either. Throughout my career a lot of changes were made and I was on the wrong side of them a few times. I’m the first to say there needs to be stability. I know how hard it is for a cricketer chopping and changing,” Khawaja said.
“I actually like the process the selectors have been taking. At the moment I’m not expecting to play the next Test but I’ll always be ready. Who knows someone else may get Covid or something else happens. Heady batted beautifully in that first Test. I’d be very surprised if too much changed. Scotty Boland was amazing last game, something I’m not sure I’ll see again, and he was going to be dropped. It’s just the reality. It sucks, but that’s just cricket.”
His is playing the SCG test only because of Travis Head testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of the match.
But will Australia retain Khawaja when Head returns?
The selectors were prepared to leave out Scott Boland despite his 6 for 7 in the second Test only for Josh Hazlewood to not recover from his side strain. The pacer picked a four-fer in the first innings in Sydney.
If we are to see Head come back, given his form, then somebody else would have to make way for Khawaja. The best option to be dropped is Marcus Harris. Even though the opener has been consistent all through the Ashes and scored 76 runs on a tricky Melbourne pitch, he is yet to get a big score. The 29-year-old averages 25.29 from 14 Tests with a top score of 79. At SCG, he edged James Anderson to slip in the first innings (38) and nicked Jack Leach to be caught behind in the second (27).
However, if Harris is dropped, who opens?
Khawaja has not opened for the majority of his Test career. In the five Test that he has, the 35-year-old averages 96.80.
“You can’t really compare five to opening, I know because I’ve done both. Opening is very tough. All I’ve done is got an opportunity with Australia, scored some runs which I’m grateful for, the hunger is still there and hopefully, not that I have to, I’ve shown I can still score runs at this level if an opportunity presents itself in the future,” Khawaja said.