An unwavering Usman Khawaja (104 n.o., 251b, 15×4) hit a boundary through deep square in the last over of the opening day to bring up his second Test century of the year and guide Australia to 255 for four in the fourth Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Thursday.
On a surface that looked flat and played better than any other in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy so far, Australia won the crucial toss and decided to grind Indian bowlers out. And after a couple of half-centuries in the last two outings, Khawaja braved the scorching sun and batted through the day to help Australia gain the upper-hand.
As the Indian bowlers struggled in the first hour of play, Khawaja and Travis Head forged a 61-run stand — the highest opening partnership for Australia on the tour. Head was on seven when K.S. Bharat dropped a straightforward catch, leaving Umesh Yadav frustrated. Making most of the opportunity, the Australian surged ahead. While Khawaja held fort at one end, Head crafted his innings with seven fours — six of which came off Umesh — before holing out to mid-on, in an attempt to go after R. Ashwin.
India pulled things back as Mohammed Shami struck with his second ball of the second spell, having Marnus Labuschagne chopping on. Two wickets lost in quick succession, the run-flow dried up for Australia as it could score just eight runs in the last ten overs before lunch.
However, a calm and composed Khawaja stood firm and a crucial 79-run partnership for the fourth wicket between him and stand-in captain Steve Smith (38, 135b, 3×4) saw Australia dominating the second session. India captain Rohit Sharma tried several bowling options and even brought in Shreyas Iyer for an over, but none could break the partnership.
But, in the second over after tea, Smith, looking to defend a Jadeja delivery, chopped on. Shami struck again in the first over of a new spell, as he rattled Peter Handscomb’s middle-stump.
Precariously placed at 170 for four and still 20 overs remaining, Australia suddenly found itself under pressure. But Khawaja once again built a pivotal unbroken 85-run partnership with young Cameron Green (49 n.o., 64b, 8×4) to turn things around.
Khawaja did not change his approach and played a risk-free innings, while Green hit a couple of boundaries off Umesh to get going.
India’s decision to take the second ball in the 82nd over also helped the visiting team as the ball came nicely onto the bat, allowing Khawaja to score his 14th Test ton and the visitors ended the day without further slip-ups.
Khawaja has come a long way since the time he used to find the going tough in the sub-continent. In the last 11 Tests in Asia since 2018, he has managed to maintain an average of 75. Better assessment of the conditions and reading the spinners well seem to have done the trick for him.