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- Australian cricketer
At the end of a fourth day on which the rain refused to fall on twin centurion Usman Khawaja’s parade, England have 98 overs to bat to save the Sydney Test, which would save them from their third whitewash in Australia in 15 years.
The forecast had been dismal, but a full day’s play – spanning three innings – was possible, with the rain arriving five minutes after the close.
England started the day by batting 9.1 overs, losing their final three first innings wickets, and ended batting 11 overs, with their callow openers standing firm for their highest stand of the series, an unbeaten 30.
In testing conditions, Zak Crawley – the more confident of the two – and Haseeb Hameed batted well to see off Australia’s excellent attack. They are in the foothills in their attempt to save the game; or, if you are of a more optimistic bent, chasing 388. Both men were probably grateful that Pat Cummins delayed his declaration beyond even further than Khawaja’s second century of the match.
The lower order had been less diligent earlier on, as Australia wrapped up England’s innings pretty promptly. They made 294, by some distance their highest first innings score of the series, but could still not breach 300 for the first time. They had given up a deficit of 122, which was pretty tidy from 36 for four, but still left them deep in the mire.
They could have been a little more diligent, to be honest. Jack Leach, overconfident after a couple of nice strokes, looked to hoick Nathan Lyon, and was caught at midwicket.
That left Bairstow exposed with Stuart Broad and James Anderson, and struggling with the thumb injury he suffered on Friday, could only add 10 to his overnight 103 before Scott Boland drew his edge.
Broad had his fun, and Anderson showed off his reverse sweep (successful on the first attempt, unsuccessful on the second). Boland picked up a slogging Broad to continue the remarkable opening to his Test career.
Boland has 11 wickets at an eye-watering average of 8.27, the lowest of any bowler to strike more than 10 times. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that another of the top five on that list, Axar Patel (36 at 11.86), also made his debut against England in the last year.
Everything seemed set up for a brutal David Warner hundred against an attack missing Ben Stokes. He at least was able to take the field, unlike Bairstow and Jos Buttler, laid low with hand injuries that could end their tour. That the available bowlers were James Anderson (35), Stuart Broad (35), Mark Wood (31, but knackered from hours spent above 90mph), and Jack Leach, who has been clouted all over Australia, made runs like ripe for the taking.
To make matters worse, the absence of Bairstow and Buttler has meant England have drafted Sam Billings in for the Fifth Test at Hobart, and Ollie Pope – a keeper in six first-class games, including the Hamilton Test of 2019 – was forced on as a sub.
Pope was a revelation, taking four catches, equalling their Test record for a sub fielder. The first was Warner, cheaply off Wood, charging in indefatigably, and the second the world’s No1 Test batter, Marnus Labuschagne. Wood was the bowler again; this was the third time he had dismissed Labuschagne since he went top of the charts just before Christmas. It has taken just 24 balls. Wood may only have nine wickets in four innings, but three are Labuschagne, one is Steve Smith, and another is Warner. He is the only England bowler to consistently trouble Australia’s best batters.
The early wickets and slow scoring rate allowed Leach, for just about the first time in the series, to work his way into a spell without a field either too attacking or defensive. And he picked up two wickets, Marcus Harris very well caught by Pope, then the prized scalp of Smith, bowled playing with impudence.
That wicket brought Khawaja and Cameron Green together, and their partnership of 179 took Australia to the brink of the declaration. Green made 74, his first score of note this series, but struggled to get going, especially against Leach, who tied him down. Once he settled, though, he flayed the seamers, especially off the back foot.
Khawaja, though, looked utterly at ease throughout. He pulled the quicks and reverse-swept the spinners, pacing his innings perfectly. This was the first time he had scored twin tons in first-class cricket, and he is just the third man to doing it in a Test at the SCG, his home ground, whose patrons were as appreciative as they were two days ago.
With Khawaja passing his hundred, and Australia forging on towards 400 – or perhaps even Green’s hundred? – the young all-rounder holed out to Leach. Next ball, Alex Carey became Pope’s fourth – and finest – catch of the innings, leading to Cummins’ declaration. Leach was denied a hat-trick ball, and set England on a very difficult journey.