Ashes: England chip away but Usman Khawaja hundred strengthens Australia’s grip

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  • Usman Khawaja
    Usman Khawaja
    Australian cricketer
Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja frustrated England (Getty Images)
Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja frustrated England (Getty Images)

England picked up three wickets on the second afternoon, including in the big scalp of Steve Smith, but Usman Khawaja’s hundred has Australia in total control on 321 for six.

England had endured a poor opening session, failing to pick up a wicket through three short rain interruptions, as Smith and Khawaja built their stand of 115.

Joe Root and Jos Buttler combined to drop Khawaja, then on 28, off Jack Leach, shortly before Ben Stokes left the field mid-over with what appeared to be a side injury. Stokes had been bowling a sustained spell of bouncers, in vain. He returned to the field after lunch.

For England, a strong passage on the first evening – with the wickets of Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne – seemed a distant memory as Leach and Dawid Malan bowled in tandem before lunch.

Tellingly, Malan had a more attacking field than Leach, still suffering painful memories of his mauling by Australia’s left-handers at Brisbane. But Leach had created the only chance of the session, when finding Khawaja’s edge. The catch was Buttler’s but it cannoned off his thigh towards Root, who could not cling on.

After lunch, the new ball became available, and Stuart Broad struck twice. Smith, having survived an lbw review in a skittish period, was caught behind for 67, then Cameron Green edged to third slip.

Alex Carey joined Khawaja, who passed a graceful fifty and played beautifully off the back foot on his first Test appearance since the 2019 Ashes. But Carey was impatient, and holed out to Root, who had replaced Leach. Jonny Bairstow took a good swirling catch.

Khawaja, only playing because Travis Head tested positive for Covid, forged on in the company of Pat Cummins and, in the over before tea, with Leach back on, he reached a superb century with a nudge into the legside for three. The Sydney boy received a raucous reception from his home crowd.

It had come off 201 balls, in a little over five hours; England’s fielders – by now weary – congratulated him as they left the field.

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