Khawaja ton gives Australians lead

Captain Michael Clarke stroked a fluent, unbeaten 68 and had Peter Siddle for company at stumps. Khawaja’s century, following an opening stand of 153 with Phil Hughes (76), throws up questions as to who would man the No. 6 spot for Australia in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle, starting on August 31. The post is notionally assigned to another left-hander, Shaun Marsh, who made only 12.

Should the selectors on tour assent to the directives of the Argus review, which stressed the need to reward performance above all else, they would have to choose Khawaja. But Marsh’s experiences in the Twenty20 and limited-overs matches so far on tour, while mixed, gave him a more comprehensive sight of the bowlers he is likely to face in the Tests. It is also felt that Khawaja’s best fit is towards the top of the batting order, where Hughes, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke are presently ensconced.

Further, the Board XI attack Khawaja tamed was presentable at best, its most striking analysis returned by a batsman, Tharanga Paranavitana (1 for 10 in seven overs). Others, potentially Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis, will set greater traps next week.

The only other question swirling around the tourists’ batting concerns Michael Hussey, who continued an indifferent run of scores on this tour by leaving his crease to be stumped in the final session. While Hussey’s omission from the first Test XI would be inconceivable, Khawaja’s poise was such that a way may need to be found to squeeze him in sooner rather than later.

Australia’s openers had resumed at 26 for 0, and after two maidens to start the second morning Khawaja announced himself with a regal push to the cover boundary. It was a stroke typical of much that would follow. Hughes, who started swiftly, gradually slowed as Board XI’s bowlers gave him less to thrash through the offside.

Hughes managed one straight drive that sped to the rope, and overall played a useful acclimatising innings in conditions that demand significant orientation. What he loses in terms of aesthetic when compared to Khawaja, Hughes makes up for with hunger for runs. During this knock, he passed 5000 runs in first-class cricket.

Eventually the stand was broken, Hughes missing an attempted flick to leg and losing his leg bail to Paranavitana. The next man in was Hussey, proof that the tour hierarchy agreed he needed a long innings after scores of two not out, 63, duck and six in the ODI series. After an edgy start, he connected with one solid pull shot, and went to tea with Khawaja perched on 92.

On resumption Khawaja did not linger. He clouted his second six, this time over midwicket after the first had been driven straight, and two singles later was saluting the dressing room and a tiny crowd upon reaching his century. It had taken 271 minutes and 208 balls, included eight fours and two sixes, and made as strong a case for Test selection as Trent Copeland’s 5 for 47 the day before.

Within moments Khawaja was shuffling off retired, to give others the chance for a bat in the evening session. Marsh managed one elegant straight drive and a strong-armed cut behind point, but soon he was departing too, having edged a Dilruwan Perera off break behind. Hussey, followed, beaten through the air and off the pitch.

Brad Haddin was also dismissed cheaply, nicely held in the gully for 16, but Clarke played with elegance and timing to place him in the right frame of mind for his first Test as the fully-fledged Australia captain.

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