Ashes diary: Khawaja expecting axe, Billings expecting debut and record-breaking Pink Test

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Ashes diary: Khawaja expecting axe, Billings expecting debut and record-breaking Pink Test
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  • Usman Khawaja
    Usman Khawaja
    Australian cricketer
  • Marcus Harris
    Australian cricketer

England will have to bat out the final day in order to save the Fourth Ashes Test in Sydney after Usman Khawaja’s second century of the match put Australia well in control.

Here’s our cricket correspondent Will Macpherson with his latest diary…

Khawaja still expecting axe

England, you sense, would rather like to be in the position to leave out a man with 10 Test centuries – let alone two in his most recent match. Four of their top seven have two hundreds or fewer in their Test careers. Two of the other three are carrying worrying injuries, and the third is carrying the team.

Yet Australia’s hero Usman Khawaja expects to miss out in the final Test in Hobart, despite his twin centuries – and says he would support Australia’s management if that is the decision they come to.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With Travis Head back from Covid, the obvious solution would be to ditch Marcus Harris and ask Khawaja to open. He has a good record at the top of the order. But Khawaja expects Australia’s selectors to stick with Harris.

“At the moment I’m quite resigned to the fact that I probably will miss out,” Khawaja said.“That’s the way talking to (Chief Selector) George Bailey and the selectors about continuity and having a similar team by the looks of it.

“I’m not totally against it either. I felt like in 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 I think there needs to be structure and stability. I know how hard it is for a cricketer with chopping and changing for confidence.

“At the moment I’m not expecting to play the next Test much but I’ll always be ready because who knows, someone might get Covid, you’ve got to stay ready.

“I’m not a selector but I know what they’ve been saying from the start so I would be surprised if there’s changes.”

Stating the obvious

“Just an observation…” tweeted Sam Billings in the middle of the morning session. “Australia is a reallyyyyy big place!”

Billings had pulled over at what he described as “a resting place” on the long drive from Brisbane, where he had been expecting to fly home from yesterday, to Sydney, where he will enter the England bubble pending a negative Covid test. Billings stopped near Newcastle for a trip to the beach and a swim, before completing the journey in time to watch his mates at Sydney Thunder play in the BBL.

He seems likely to make his debut in Hobart, where he would become England Men’s 700th Test cricket. England assistant coach Graham Thorpe said Billings’ call-up was a “pretty good indicator” of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow’s finger injuries.

It’s been a remarkable 24 hours for Billings. Thorpe revealed he was about 90 minutes away from flying back to the UK, as other members of the England T20 party for the Caribbean tour this month already have.

Able stand in

The man who stepped in with the gloves in Sydney, Ollie Pope, did a very good job. He took four catches, including an excellent one off Alex Carey that brought about Australia’s declaration and equalled the record for most dismissals by a sub fielder.

Hoff off

Day four was Josh Hazlewood’s birthday. Happy birthday! It was also the day Australia confirmed that Hazlewood, one of the world’s very best fast bowlers, would not be used again in the series. They have absolutely dominated the Ashes, despite only having him fully fit for one innings. Remarkable.

Hazlewood, who has a slightly mysterious side injury, is being put on ice for the white-ball games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka later this month.

The boss is back

The latest Covid-sufferer to return to the SCG was Nick Hockley, the Cricket Australia Chief Executive. Only Chris Silverwood and Jon Lewis, England’s bowling coach, remain missing, after Travis Head, Jeetan Patel, Darren Veness and others returned.

Impeccable taste

The Sydney Test is always full of fruity outfits due to the McGrath Foundation’s Pink Day. Few were better than David Gower’s on day four.

Record breakers

Speaking of Pink Day, huge congrats to the McGrath Foundation for their record-breaking efforts in the toughest of conditions, with Covid ripping through Sydney and no travelling England fans on the ground. They sold more than 240,000 Virtual Pink Seats, raising $5m. There will be more raised tomorrow, with the final day entry on donation.

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