Sports

Usman Khawaja’s hundred one to savour


Khawaja raised his bat to a vociferous Karachi crowd in a city where many of his Pakistani family still reside. The love shown for Khawaja in Pakistan is palpable, with signs everywhere in the crowd on a memorable day for all those who witnessed a master in the subcontinent execute to near perfection.

Usman Khawaja brings up triple figures in Karachi on Saturday.

Usman Khawaja brings up triple figures in Karachi on Saturday. Credit:AP

“Every one of my family is born in Karachi except me, so this is my home. I’ve been here a lot,” Khawaja said.

“It’s nice to get a hundred. It would have been nice to get a hundred both there [Rawalpindi] and here, but I will take this one.”

Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke are among a long list of established players who never scored a century in Pakistan.

It was certainly a slow grind to triple figures – Khawaja took 71 balls to move from 80 to 100 –but the moment itself was one all Australian cricket fans dearly wished would happen on a tour like this.

Khawaja was 11 years old when Mark Waugh made 117 against Pakistan in Karachi in October 1998 and it was fitting that 8539 days later the crafty left-hander broke Australia’s century drought in a country that Khawaja has wanted to tour his entire career.

More than 60 per cent of Khawaja’s first 100 runs were struck from mid-wicket to fine leg and he now has 479 runs from six innings, at an average of 119.75, since being recalled to the Test team in January.

Everything Khawaja touches at the moment turns to gold, while Smith posted his second 50 of the series to put Australia in a dominant position at a ground they have never won at.

Across both Tests this series, 17 wickets have fallen for 1438 runs.

Earlier, Khawaja and David Warner fell 18 runs short of notching back-to-back triple-figure Australian opening partnerships for the first time in almost seven years as Marnus Labuschagne ran himself out for a duck on a dramatic first morning.

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Pakistan’s first reward was the wicket of Warner, who after smashing spinner Sajid Khan for six the previous over was caught behind for 36 after a lovely delivery from Faheem Ashraf that angled in before finding the edge.

Their 82-run opening partnership swung early momentum Australia’s way.

Not since Warner and Joe Burns in 2015 against New Zealand at the Gabba has an Australian opening pair made back-to-back century partnerships.

Australian selectors will be extremely comforted that two 35-year-olds are doing a fine job at the top of the order, even if there is no clear answer on what the future holds with two great servants of Australian cricket in the twilight of their careers.

For now, Australia have found a duo that provides stability and consistency.

Warner and Khawaja batted with positive intent in Rawalpindi, piling on 156 runs for the first wicket, and replicated that in Karachi.

Labuschagne hit more balls than any of his teammates in the lead-up to this Test but was back in the pavilion with not a run to his name.

Labuschagne tried to sneak a single to Sajid Khan at mid-off and realised halfway down the pitch he was in trouble. The direct hit left Australia’s No.3 out of his ground by the smallest of margins and with just his second duck in Tests.

It was a memorable day for Khawaja, who also had the honour of presenting Mitch Swepson a baggy green that has been years in the making.

Khawaja’s speech, with teammates huddled around, was one of the longer ones in recent memory.

After almost five minutes of waxing lyrical, Khawaja handed Swepson, his Queensland teammate, the cap he has dreamed of owning since he first featured in an Australian squad five years ago.

Swepson’s day got even better when he learned captain Pat Cummins had won the toss and chosen to bat on a hard pitch that is expected to break up earlier than the surface in Rawalpindi.

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Given Australia has not won a Test in Karachi from eight attempts – there have been five draws and three losses – there was a look of relief on Cummins’ face when the coin fell his way.

By day’s end, Cummins would be happy with how his team is placed, despite Smith’s late dismissal when a drought-breaking century looked on the cards for day two.

From 43 Tests in Karachi, the team batting first has only won seven times. Whoever has bowled first has come away victorious on 18 occasions.

Australia has certainly put down foundations to buck that trend.

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