SYDNEY (Reuters) - Usman Khawaja hit a mammoth 171 and Shaun Marsh was approaching his sixth test century as Australia eased 133 runs ahead of England on 479 for four after the third day of the fifth Ashes clash on Saturday.
Khawaja shared a stand of 188 with captain Steve Smith, who was dismissed just before lunch, and another of 101 with Marsh, who just missed out on his second hundred of the series in the over before stumps.
Marsh will resume on 98 on day four with his brother Mitchell, who was 63 not out, as they look to bat the tourists out of the match and set up an opportunity for their bowlers to secure a win that would give Australia a 4-0 series triumph.
The Marsh brothers combined for 104 in the final session and punished England with a flurry of boundaries in the last hour as the bowlers tired after a long day’s slog in bright sunshine at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It was Khawaja’s sure hand, though, that guided Australia past England’s tally of 346 after Mooen Ali (1-125) had stunned a packed house by moving the apparently unmoveable when he dismissed Smith caught and bowled for 83.
“It’s awesome,” Khawaja said of his innings. “The SCG was where I grew up playing cricket for New South Wales and an Ashes century is something I have wanted for a long time and I haven’t been able to achieve, so it was very satisfying.
“You don’t get to celebrate test centuries too much unless you’re Steve Smith. You’ve got to enjoy them when they come.”
Smith had already scored three centuries, two of them unbeaten and one a double, in the series and although denied a fourth, walked off his home ground having amassed 687 runs at an average of 137.4 over the five tests.
Khawaja had an lbw scare in the following over but was reprieved when TV pictures showed Mason Crane had bowled a no ball and he otherwise looked assured as he calmly totted up the runs in the face of some tight English bowling.
A fine stroke-player but considered suspect against spin bowling, Khawaja has had a stop-start career in the baggy green since making his debut at the SCG in the corresponding Ashes clash eight years ago.
He wasted no time in knocking off the nine runs he needed to secure his maiden hundred against England at the start of the day, cutting Moeen for two before soaking up the ovation from a crowd largely clad in pink in support of Glenn McGrath’s cancer charity.
Spinner Moeen was again bowling when he reached the 150-run mark, two consecutive fours to get over the mark a rare flourish in a 381-ball innings that contained 18 of them along with a solitary six.
England captain Joe Root came closest to a breakthrough in the second session when Shaun Marsh, on 22, was given out caught behind only for the decision to be reversed when TV pictures showed a big gap between ball and bat.
It was debutant leg-spinner Crane who finally ended the 31-year-old’s time out in the middle to claim his first test victim, beating the bat to leave Khawaja stranded and Jonny Bairstow with a simple stumping.
Crane, 20, attracted the ire of the crowd with his habit of pulling out of his run-up but kept his head up despite finishing with figures of 1-125.
It was a very good day on the decision review system for Australia with Mitchell Marsh also reversing a late lbw decision after the snicko revealed an inside edge.
“It was pretty tough,” said Bairstow. “We’re 150 overs into the innings so there’s going to be a few tired bodies but I thought the way the guys toiled out there and worked hard was really impressive.”
Australia won back the Ashes with victories in the first three matches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth with the fourth test in Melbourne finishing in a draw last week.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Sudipto Ganguly