USMAN Khawaja started the summer with Test greats questioning his toughness and desire, but he produced an all-time hundred to show why he is Australia’s ice man.
As the floodlights shone out in full force in Adelaide, Australia got the shakes and lost 3-10 in rapid succession as South Africa rallied.
However, Khawaja, who batted all day and all night put his side in the box seat to bounce back from crisis and preserve their proud record of having never been whitewashed at home.
It’s a rarity in the modern game to bat through an entire day, and Khawaja’s marathon knock which has now also spanned the uncharted territory of two dangerous night sessions will go down as one of the best tons by an Australian in the past five years.
Khawaja’s unbeaten 138 along with Mitchell Starc’s fighting cameo has set an incredible platform for Australia at 6-307, with the regenerated home side now only an hour or two away from turning a 48-run lead into an unassailable margin.
Following the chaos of being thrust up to open the batting when David Warner was timed out on night one, Khawaja’s personal best 285-ball stay at the crease has been nothing short of inspirational for a rebuilding batting order.
Despite scores of 97 and 64 already this series, Khawaja still had it all to prove.
Even last week after crisis struck in Hobart, coach Darren Lehmann refused to guarantee Khawaja was one of the players safe from the axe.
This performance will go down as the signature moment of his career so far.
“You can see Khawaja maturing before your eyes,” said Shane Warne on Nine.
“There’s a sense of calmness about him now.
“He’s going to be a better player after this series and I think you can already see it.
“No.3 is such a crucial position. Australia need as many solid players as you can and Khawaja gets a tick.”
Khawaja’s stunning innings featured a 137-run stand with Steve Smith and then a 99-run partnership with impressive debutant Peter Handscomb, who made 54 and brought his milestone up with three straight boundaries.
That calmness was followed by a mini-collapse with Handscomb rolled by Kyle Abbott (3-38), Nic Maddinson castled by Kagiso Rabada for a duck and then Matt Wade pinned by Vernon Philander for 4 all in the space of five overs.
There’s a stillness about the 29-year-old that exudes pure class, and the control he exhibited at the crease in Adelaide bore all the hallmarks of a classic Test century.
Talent and style has never been his problem as a couple of effortless pull shots and cover drives showed, and it was resilience and determination – from the moment a mix-up forced him up to open instead of Warner – that made Australia’s first ton of the series all the more special.
Khawaja thought he was made a scapegoat by selectors for the Test whitewash in Sri Lanka when he was dumped for the last match.
Former Test captains Steve Waugh and Kim Hughes disagreed, questioning the resolve of a player they felt just didn’t want it enough.
Yesterday Khawaja demonstrated exactly what the baggy green means to him as he celebrated his fifth Test hundred with an animated fist-pump and a look to the sky.
Khawaja plundered century after century last summer against weaker opposition, but according to Warne this South African series has made a man out of Australia’s No.3.
Smith was 46 when he was dropped at first slip by Hashim Amla, but just as the skipper looked set for a big leading-from-the-front hundred – he was spectacularly run out for 59.
The mix-up was a disastrous one for Australia, and largely the fault of Khawaja’s who failed to respond to his skipper’s call – but again it did not seem the time for such a risky single with South Africa finally under pressure.