The Ashes: Usman Khawaja and Marsh brothers grind England into the Sydney dirt
Usman Khawaja’s century and fifties from Shaun and Mitchell Marsh put Australia in complete control of the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney.
The hosts, already 3-0 up, boast a lead of 133 with six wickets in hand after they raced past England’s first-innings effort of 346.
Joe Root‘s side took just two wickets on day three and were made to toil as Khawaja (171), Shaun Marsh (98*) and brother Mitchell (63*) filled their boots.
Resuming on 193-2, a deficit of 153, Usman Khawaja quickly scored the nine runs he required to reach his first century of the series and sixth overall. After a frustrating few weeks, in which Khawaja had threatened but failed to produce a match-defining performance, questions had been asked about the Pakistan-born batsman’s longevity in the side ahead of Australia’s next test, a tour of South Africa.
But the 31-year-old produced one of the best innings of his career to silence his critics and send a timely reminder of his ability to the selectors. The partnership with Steve Smith, who also reached a milestone in the first half-an-hour – his 23rd fifty – was already turning into a potentially match-winning one as England’s lead dipped below three figures.
Smith was cruising towards yet another century but, on 83, the Sydney crowd fell flat as he offered the struggling Moeen Ali a return catch. Four wickets in the series represents a shocking return for Moeen but he will at least return home with Smith, the world’s number one Test batsman, as one of his scalps. Debutant Mason Crane, growing by the spell, trapped Khawaja in front but was denied a first international wicket as replays showed he overstepped by a matter of centimetres.
Australia had moved to 277-3 at lunch and Khawaja brought up his 150 shortly before his stand with Shaun Marsh passed 50. Root had begun to trouble Marsh with his part-time off-spin – an ominous sign going into the final two days of the match – but the hosts took the lead as Khawaja and Marsh both hit Moeen for boundaries in successive overs.
Overshadowed by the dominant Smith and David Warner, Marsh has gone under the radar during the series but with three fifties and one century, he has proved to be a real thorn in England’s side. The chances dried up for Root’s tiring outfit and a wicket-less session put Australia in complete control as they looked to secure a healthy first innings lead.
Marsh and Khawaja attempted to up the ante after the tea break, both hitting boundaries to the delight of the Sydney crowd, which was a sea of pink in support of the McGrath Foundation, an organisation led by Glenn McGrath aiming to raise $1.3million for breast cancer charities.
Khawaja’s fine knock came to an end on 171, however, as he ran past a delivery from Crane, handing the 20-year-old his maiden Test wicket. The breakthrough led to England’s most threatening period of the day; Crane thought he had found Mitchell Marsh’s edge as the ball flew to slip – only for DRS to show it was natural spin – before the leggie beat the bat a further three times. Crane has shown promise in this final Ashes match but he, perhaps expectedly, lacks the consistency of an experienced spinner and began to leak runs.
The same can be said for Moeen, who was smashed for 14 off one over by Mitchell Marsh as he made the most of some early reprieves to race to a half-century off just 64 balls. He was then given out lbw off Tom Curran but immediately reviewed and the decision was overturned. By the close of play the Marsh brothers were still going strong with Australia on 479-4, a lead of 133.