Fighting England will have to bat out the final day to avoid defeat in the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney — after imperious Usman Khawaja’s second hundred of the match.
Pakistan-born Khawaja had two years out in the Test wilderness before returning in fine style to record the rare milestone of twin centuries at his old home ground.
The left-hander etched his name in the history books as only the third player to make hundreds in both innings of an SCG Test match, after Doug Walters and Ricky Ponting, and just the sixth Australian to achieve the incredible feat in an Ashes showdown.
Khawaja’s classy unbeaten 101 helped Australia set England a notional 388 runs to win the game, but more realistically they will have to withstand 98 overs against a quality pace attack and the spin of Nathan Lyon on a wearing fifth-day pitch for a battling draw.
The brief signs were good for England as they negotiated a tricky 50-minute period in gloomy conditions to get to stumps unscatched. But the enormity of the task remains; they have to survive the final day to avoid heading to Hobert on the brink of another 5-0 series whitewash.
Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed kept out 11 tricky overs to finish the day on 30/0 which is, embarrassingly, the tourists’ highest opening partnership of their miserable tour.
Earlier in the day, England added just 36 runs to their overnight 258/7 to leave a first-innings deficit of 122.
England’s 294 meant they are still yet to pass 300 during the series, despite Bairstow’s defiant 113, which is a damning indictment of just how woeful they have been with the bat.
Australia were reduced to, first, 68/3 and then 86/4 as speedster Mark Wood and spinner Jack Leach took two wickets apiece.
But a masterful, then entertaining, 179-run fifth-wicket stand between centurion Khawaja and Cameron Green — who fell 21 runs short of a maiden Test ton — kept the hosts’ hopes of a cleansweep alive.
Ollie Pope kept wicket for England, and acquitted himself well with four catches, with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow both off the field after taking brutal blows to the hand during the first innings.
The pair and Ben Stokes, who fielded but didn’t bowl due to his side strain, have gone for scans and will be assessed ahead of the fifth Test.
Marcus Harris edged James Anderson’s first ball of the innings through the slips for four. But the extra pace of Wood soon accounted for David Warner.
Left-arm tweaker Leach had Harris caught behind before Durham paceman Wood got No1 Test ranked batter Marnus Labuschange out for the third straight innings. Steve Smith was then bowled by Leach with the lead only 206.
But from then on it was the Khawaja and Green show. They soaked up the pressure before setting up the declaration with crunching authority.
Khawaja picked up from where he left off in the first innings as he majestically drove through the covers and brutally smashed the spinners into the stands with some fine slog sweeps. And he was ably aided by the towering all-rounder, who had struggled with the bat previously in the series.
Another testament to just how badly fragile England have batted on this tour is the fact Khawaja’s tally of 238 runs in his game is more than every visiting player in the series except captain Joe Root.
Leach finished with figures of 4/84 after a tough examination so far down under as the Aussies declared on 265/6.
That gave England a tricky 11 overs to face in darkening conditions. But unlike in Melbourne when they finished the day on the brink at 31/4, openers Hameed and Crawley safely battled their way to stumps to give the visitors hope of salvaging a draw in Sydney.
Batting coach Graham Thorpe said: “We’re in good spirits. The dressing’s room focused. It was great to negotiate that tricky last 45 minutes. We want to see a lot more of that tomorrow.
“Tomorrow’s going to require a lot of concentration, but I want to see good intent. It’s a great opportunity for a couple of lads to put in a performance for the team and save the game.”
*18+ | BeGambleAware