AUSTRALIAN opener Usman Khawaja (R) celebrates with team-mate Steve Smith after reaching 150 runs against South Africa during their third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.—AFP
AUSTRALIAN opener Usman Khawaja (R) celebrates with team-mate Steve Smith after reaching 150 runs against South Africa during their third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.—AFP

SYDNEY: Rain denied Usman Khawaja a maiden double-century after a Steve Smith ton but Australia were in complete command of the third Test against South Africa on Thursday, having made hay on a placid pitch for a second straight day.

Australia were 475 for four on day two when stumps came early at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with opener Khawaja on a career-high 195 not out and newly minted number six Matt Renshaw on five after coming out of his Covid-19 segregation.

On a stop-start day blighted by the weather, Smith shone with his 30th Test hundred and Travis Head hammered a T20-style 70 from 59 balls to pile on the pain for the Proteas, whose hopes of a face-saving win were crushed under a mountain of runs.

Pakistan-born Khawaja continued his love affair with the SCG where he reignited his international career last year with twin Ashes hundreds against England.

“There’s a lot of special feelings here,” Khawaja told Fox Sports as he came off for lunch. “I grew up just up the road ... It’s always an honour to score runs here.”

The match is a dead rubber, with Australia having sealed the series with wins in Melbourne and Brisbane. But Pat Cum­mins’s side can book their place in the World Test Championship final with another victory.

With further rain forecast and wickets at a premium, the hosts may need to declare early on day three to force a result.

Smith joined a group of 14 cricketers with 30 Test centuries before spinner Keshav Maharaj had the number four caught and bowled for 104, ending a 209-run partnership with Khawaja.

Smith left Don Bradman (29) behind and has only Steve Waugh (32) and Ricky Ponting (41) ahead of him among Australia’s most prolific century-makers.

He was still disappointed to have given Maharaj his first wicket of a tough series and walked off dejected as fans gave him a standing ovation.

“It’s a pretty slow wicket, theres not a great deal there for the fast bowlers, not a heap there for the spinners,” said Smith after his 192-ball knock. “It was nice to score a few today and contribute. We’re in a really good spot. Hopefully [Khawaja] can get 200 or even 300 tomorrow.”

Khawaja, the third-highest scorer in Tests in 2022, raised his 13th Test century with a pull-shot off Rabada and a mad scramble for two runs.

With his beaming wife cradling his two small daughters in the terraces, he celebrated with a David Warner-style leap and danced a little jig. He offered only one clear chance in his unbeaten 368-ball knock when he cut paceman Kagiso Rabada straight to point when on 119.

A startled Anrich Nortje misjudged the flight of the ball and it brushed past his leg on the way to the fence, the moment summing up South Africa’s day.

Khawaja struck three fours off a fuming Rabada in the bowler’s next over, with two edges racing between the lone slip and gully.

Combining with Smith to attack Maharaj, the elegant 36-year-old drove a half-volley off the spinner through the covers to bring up his 150.

Head later took over, thrashing eight fours and a six before pulling Rabada and getting caught in the deep.

Maharaj said South Africa’s batters, who have reached 200 only once in the series, could only take the lead from Khawaja and Smith.

“It has been a really tough tour to say the least,” Maharaj, who had figures of 1-108 at stumps, told reporters. “I do believe the Australian batting line-up is obviously probably one of the best in the world right now.”

Scoreboard

AUSTRALIA (1st Innings, overnight 147-2):

U. Khawaja not out 195

D. Warner c Jansen b Nortje 10

M. Labuschagne c Verreynne b Nortje 79

S­. Smith c and b Maharaj 104

T. Headc sub b Rabada 70

M. Renshaw not out 5

EXTRAS (LB-5, NB-6, W-1) 12

TOTAL (for four wickets, 131 overs) 475

FALL OF WICKETS: 1-12 (Warner), 2-147 (Labuschagne), 3-356 (Smith), 4-468 (Head)

STILL TO BAT: A. Carey, A. Agar, P. Cummins, N. Lyon, J. Hazlewood

BOWLING: Rabada 28-3-119-1 (4nb), Nortje 22-5-55-2 (2nb), Jansen 25-4-79-0 (1w), Maharaj 25-1-108-1, Harmer 31-3-109-0.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

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