Steve Smith has accelerated past two Australian cricketing greats with his 30th career Test century, passing Don Bradman's mark of 29. The former skipper also surpassed Michael Clarke to become Australia's fourth highest Test scorer.
Smith's impressive innings came after opener Usman Khawaja also passed the century mark, the fifth time he's done so since solidifying his spot in the Test side. Unfortunately for Smith, he wasn't able to extend their partnership in Australia's first innings, reacting with disbelief after being caught and bowled by Keshav Maharaj.
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It wasn't enough to take the shine off a vintage innings from Smith, his first Test hundred against South Africa in nearly nine years. He and Khawaja looked incredibly comfortable against the Proteas attack, prompting criticism of the fields set by captain Dean Elgar.
Smith became just the fourth Australian player to score 30 or more Test centuries, with Matthew Hayden (30), Steve Waught (32) and Ricky Ponting (41) the only others to do so. In celebrating, Smith appeared to take a leaf out of former fast bowler Brett Lee's playbook, miming starting a chainsaw following Khawaja's own enthusiastic celebration.
Prior to the series, Smith admitted that of his international rivals, it was South Africa's attack that had troubled him the most. Setting aside the troublesome Gabba pitch that gave both teams fits, Smith has looked comfortable throughout the series, frustrated after being dismissed for 85 in the Boxing Day Test.
He'd make no mistake about reaching the century this time, with fans once again in awe of the 33-year-old's prowess. He had earlier cleared the rope off both of South Africa's spinners, dispatching Maharaj over the legside and Simon Harmer back down the ground.
Smith also looked comfortable against his old nemesis Kasigo Rabada, playing a superb pull shot early to the boundary and doing again likewise off Marco Jansen. He brought up his 30th century pulling Anrich Nortje for four, becoming the fourth Australian to reach the milestone.
Usman Khawaja equals Ricky Ponting record with SCG masterclass
In rare form since he was recalled to Australia's team last January, Khawaja has averaged more than 75 since his comeback. After resuming on 51no on Thursday, the right-hander worked the ball off his pads nicely and hit the out-of-sorts Maharaj over cover for six.
He also helped take 14 off one Rabada over in the middle session, cutting the South African quick for four and then twice guiding him to the third-man boundary. The only opportunity he offered up also went for four, middling Rabada to Nortje at point before the ball brushed the quick's pants and flew to the rope.
He joins Wally Hammond, Doug Walters and VVS Laxman as the only other players to hit three centuries in a row at the SCG, while he also joined Ricky Ponting as the only players to have scored four Test tons at the ground.
Khawaja's average at the SCG reached 115 after he passed 100 - the second-highest for a player at one venue in history. Only Don Bradman's mark of 128.53 at the MCG is better.
In a rare vein of form since being recalled to Australia's Test team, Khawaja scored twin tons at the SCG last summer during the Ashes. His century on Thursday marked his fifth in his most recent stint as a Test opener. "My wife and two kids are here, it's just a really nice feeling," he told Fox Sports at the lunch break.
Khawaja combined with Marnus Labuschagne for a 135-run partnership on the opening day before the latter was dismissed with the final ball before bad light stopped play. “I’m astounded at the captaincy,” Mark Waugh said in commentary for Fox Sports. “I can’t believe Harmer is off and Maharaj is still on.
“I don’t understand the tactic. I thought Harmer looked good. He was getting some drift, some spin. He’s been taken off. Maharaj hasn’t looked like getting a wicket and he’s still bowling.”
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