Pat Cummins' brutal call as Usman Khawaja misses out on double century

The Aussie captain's decision had been hotly debated by cricket greats during the third Test at the SCG.

Pat Cummins and Usman Khawaja, pictured here in the third Test against South Africa.
Pat Cummins faced a difficult call with Usman Khawaja on the cusp of a double century. Image: Getty

Pat Cummins has declared Australia's innings before a ball was bowled on day four of the third Test at the SCG after the entire morning session was washed out. After 47 overs were lost due to poor weather on the opening day and another 14 on day two, the entire third day was washed out due to relentless rain.

The situation proved particularly frustrating for Usman Khawaja, who was 195 not out when rain brought an early end to play on day two. With the third day a complete washout and Saturday's morning session also lost, Cummins was forced to declare and send South Africa in to bat, meaning Khawaja missed out on scoring his maiden double century.

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With Australia scoring 475 runs across the first two days, their only chance of victory is to send South Africa in to bat and hope to bowl them out twice in just five sessions. But making things difficult for Cummins was the fact that Khawaja was only five runs short of 200.

Speaking on Friday, Khawaja said it would have been 'harsh' if Cummins declared and left him on 195 not out. “I think it’d be pretty harsh if he bowled straight away. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

“He’s been making a few jokes... (saying) ‘I’ve let (South African skipper) Dean Elgar know that we want to go out and have a bowl straight away’. We could go out there and get a few more runs really quickly or we could declare pretty much straight away. I’m not the captain... I don’t make those decisions."

However the further delays on Saturday morning effectively forced Cummins' hand. The Aussies are keen to complete a 3-0 whitewash over South Africa and seal their place in the World Test Championship final.

Before the morning session was washed out, Cummins was reportedly leaning towards batting on. “Our intel is Pat Cummins intends to bat on, he’s not declaring at the overnight,” Kerry O’Keeffe said on Fox Cricket.

“That may change given that the covers are still on but the prospects of play are pretty bright. Cummins intends to score 50-70 more, so not just the tokenism of Usman completing this double century.

“There are batters going to come in. That’ll be good theatre because players like Alex Carey, Matt Renshaw and Cummins himself are going to pin their ears back because this mantra around the team is all about team-first then wickets are going to fall in pursuit of the declaration. I think they’re looking at around 550. But Usman first up has the opportunity to complete what is a great renaissance story.”

Ground staff, pictured here working on the field prior to day four in the third Test between Australia and South Africa.
Ground staff work on the field prior to day four in the third Test between Australia and South Africa. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Cricket world divided over Pat Cummins call

Speaking on Channel 7, former Test captain Ricky Ponting also said he didn't think Cummins would declare. However former Australia coach Justin Langer said the team comes before individual accolades and the declaration should come straight away, comments that Damien Fleming agreed with.

South Africa's batting coach Justin Sammons said the Proteas were expecting to be batting virtually straight away on Saturday. "If Khawaja wasn't on 190-odd, then I would say they will declare straight away," he said on Friday.

"I suspect they might let him go out there and get that double, and then declare. If they do bat, it will be until that point where he gets that double and call it. But they could say team first, and call it straight away."

The wet weather in Sydney also means the pitch hasn't broken up as much as expected, which will make Australia's attempt to take 20 wickets even trickier. The Aussies opted to play two specialist spinners in Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar with the expectation that lots of turn would be on offer late in the match.

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