Sydney – An imperious Usman Khawaja was on the verge of a double century when rain interrupted Australia’s run plunder against South Africa in the third Test on Thursday in Sydney.
In another dominant day for the hosts, Khawaja peeled off an unbeaten 195 for his highest Test score while Steven Smith passed a Don Bradman landmark with his 30th hundred.
At the rain-enforced close on day two, Australia were 475-4 with Matt Renshaw — who tested positive for Covid at the start of the match — five not out.
Australia are 2-0 up in the series and chasing a clean sweep.
Khawaja and Smith shared in a 209-run stand and Travis Head rammed home the initiative with a blistering 59-ball 70 to leave the visitors yet again facing an uphill task.
The red-hot Khawaja surpassed his previous highest score of 174, made against New Zealand in Brisbane in 2015.
Smith more than played his part, passing Bradman’s 29 Test tons with a majestic pullshot off Anrich Nortje to the boundary ropes to claim a hometown hundred off 190 balls.
He was out two balls later for 104 when he innocuously chipped back a catch to Keshav Maharaj for the left-arm spinner’s first wicket of the series.
Along the way Smith also overtook Michael Clarke to become Australia’s fourth-highest Test run-getter with 8,647, behind Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh.
Only Ponting (41) and Waugh (32) have scored more Test centuries for Australia than Smith, who is second only to the immortal Bradman (99.94) with a current Test average of 60.89 in his 92nd Test match.
“I don’t think about that stuff a great deal but I did look up at the scoreboard just after I got 100… and there are some pretty big names there, so that’s pretty cool,” Smith said.
“I think there is starting to get a little bit more rough. That’s certainly positive signs for us. The rougher and more abrasive that surface gets, the more you’ll probably see reverse swing come into play as well.”
Home comforts for Khawaja
Khawaja relentlessly accumulated on his third consecutive Sydney Test hundred and when rain ended play with 14 overs left he had faced 368 balls, with 19 fours and a six.
Before lunch, Khawaja danced a celebratory jig after clipping Kagiso Rabada for two through deep square to bring up another hundred at Sydney Cricket Ground.
It followed twin centuries against England in last year’s corresponding Sydney Test.
“I grew up here just up the road and my family is here watching, I have friends out in the crowd, it’s always an honour to score runs here,” said Khawaja.
Only England’s Wally Hammond, Australian Doug Walters and India’s VVS Laxman have scored three consecutive Test centuries at the famous SCG.
Head hit another typical rumbustious half-century before he was brilliantly caught on the ropes by substitute fielder Rassie van der Dussen off Rabada.
“In the position we are in, the more time that is taken out of the game is probably more in our favour,” Maharaj said after rain brought South Africa some badly needed respite.
“But it also puts Australia in a position where they have to make a play from here on in.”
So far in this one-sided three-Test series, the Australians have amassed 1 303 runs for the loss of 26 wickets – at an average per wicket of 50.
South Africa have 644 runs for the loss of 40 wickets at 16.1.
The Australians won the opening Test by a six-wicket rout in Brisbane inside two days and then hammered the Proteas by an innings and 182 runs in Melbourne.
Apart from the pursuit of a series whitewash, Australia are trying to seal a place in the ICC World Test Championship final in London in June.