Khawaja and Smith put Australia in control


On a day when Australia chipped slowly away at England’s total, in a dead rubber, individual moments and milestones caught the eye more than the overall match progress. There was Steven Smith joining cricket royalty by reaching 6000 Test runs quicker than anyone but Don Bradman and Garry Sobers. There was Usman Khawaja fighting to his highest Test score in more than a year. There was Cameron Bancroft, bowled for a duck, barely clinging to his Test career. And there was Mason Crane, a 20-year-old legspinner, searching in vain for his maiden Test wicket.

The day had started with England at 5 for 233; they added a further 113 for the loss of their last five wickets, via some vigorous tail-wagging and sloppy work from the Australians with the ball and in the field. By the close of proceedings, Australia were 2 for 193 in reply, with Khawaja on 91 and Smith on 44. The Australians had progressed at less than three runs an over, happy to work in a leisurely manner as they reduced the deficit to 153 runs at stumps. With eight wickets in hand, the match was fairly evenly poised.

Khawaja certainly was looking forward to the third morning and an opportunity for his first Test century since November 2016. Last year was a challenging one for Khawaja, who was overlooked for the Tests in India, recalled in Bangladesh, dropped a Test later, restored for the Ashes and has struggled to make the most of his starts since then. Here, he played calmly and assuredly off both front and back foot, notably using his feet to the spinners, and struck seven fours and one six, lofted down the ground off Moeen Ali.

His partnership with Smith was worth 107 runs by stumps. Smith, the leading Test run scorer in the world in 2017, began 2018 in comfortable if not blazing fashion. There was a close call when he edged Crane just short of Joe Root at slip, but otherwise Smith had little trouble. When he pulled a single off Crane to move to 26, Smith joined Sobers in reaching 6000 Test runs in 111 innings, behind only Bradman, who had done so from 68 innings. Given that Bradman and Sobers were both knighted for services to cricket, Smith is in the most elite of company.

Summarized scores: Australia 2 for 193 (Khawaja 91*, Smith 44*) trail England 346 (Root 83, Malan 62, Cummins 4-80) by 153 runs

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