Australian Test batsman Usman Khawaja has made an explosive return to cricket in the Big Bash League, helping the Sydney Thunder to a one-run win with a stunning century.
At the MCG, where he hopes to resume Test duties next week, Khawaja batted through the innings, making 109 off 70 balls against the Melbourne Stars.
Khawaja’s knock powered the Thunder to 6-178, just enough to hold off the Stars.
After a mid-innings wobble, a late show from Kevin Pietersen (76) and James Faulkner (45 not out) left the Stars needing 10 off the last six balls to win.
The final over pitted two of the best all-rounders of two generations; Jacques Kallis with the ball and Faulkner with the bat.
The 40-year-old prevailed when Faulkner failed to hit a boundary from the last ball.
The last-ball drama didn’t take away from Khawaja’s powerful innings.
The 29-year-old made a five-week lay-off with a hamstring injury seem immaterial, producing another century to go with his 174 and 121 in Tests against New Zealand.
On this evidence, Khawaja seems certain to return against the West Indies for the Boxing Day Test, proving both his form and fitness.
Khawaja bullied the Stars bowlers, striking firmly on the back and front foot with 12 boundaries and three sixes.
Thunder captain Mike Hussey, who made 16 alongside Khawaja, said the 29-year-old displayed exceptional touch.
“He hasn’t missed a beat, he’s timed it beautifully from the word go,” he said.
The Thunder’s next best contributor was Andre Russell (22).
Maligned former Test batsman Shane Watson (1) was dismissed lbw by Glenn Maxwell, the best of the Stars’ bowlers (2-28).
The Stars played baseball as they began their chase, finding the ropes with a number of horizontal-bat strokes.
Marcus Stoinis (27) and Englishman Luke Wright (18) swatted their way to an opening stand of 48 before Andrew Russell captured them both in consecutive balls.
In front of just 18,809 spectators, Pietersen set about the rescue mission.