Steve Smith notches another milestone and other Ashes talking points

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The Australian skipper notched up 6,000 Test runs.

Seven wickets fell on day two of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) with Australia well placed at 193-2 when stumps were called.

England had earlier managed to add 113 runs from their overnight score before being bowled out for 346 runs at the stroke of lunch on Friday.

Steve Smith was once again looking in tormenting form for the tourists as he finished the day unbeaten on 44 with Usman Khawaja, who was batting on 91, for company.

Here, we look at the key talking points from another eventful day.

USMAN KHAWAJA ARRIVES TO THE PARTY

The Ashes series is an important one for Khawaja who has been in and out of the Australian side in 2017. The left-hander hasn’t exactly flourished in the series despite two scores of fifty with an aggregate total of 162 runs in his six innings prior to Sydney.

The left-hander was in his element on Friday and was particularly effective against England’s spinners. His unbeaten 91 is his highest Test score in more than a year since his 97 against Pakistan in the Boxing Day Test of 2016.

He is on course for his sixth Test century and first since his 145 against South Africa in November 2016.

Khawaja is on course for his sixth Test century.

Khawaja is on course for his sixth Test century.

ENGLAND GET THEIR TAIL WAGGING

After Dawid Malan fell early to a stunning catch by Smith at slip in the morning, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the tourists with six wickets down.

With Moeen Ali woefully out of form, Australia would have expected to bundle out England fairly cheaply.

However, Ali dug in to put together a handy 30 runs before gloving behind to Pat Cummins. Tom Curran was scratchy and survived some close calls but put together a spirited innings of 39 crucial runs before being dismissed by another Cummins bouncer.

Stuart Broad, who had scored a fighting and entertaining half-century at Melbourne, once again brought out his pulls and hooks as the Aussies peppered him with the short-stuff.

He smashed two sixes in almost a run-a-ball 31 before falling to Nathan Lyon but England’s tail had showed impressive fight to add just under 100 runs after the dismissal of Malan.

Tom Curran dug in with a spirited innings.

Tom Curran dug in with a spirited innings.

STEVE SMITH NOTCHES ANOTHER MILESTONE

All throughout the Australian summer, Smith has put together insane numbers with the bat breaking several records in the process.

On Friday, he notched another feather in his cap when he completed 6,000 Test runs with a single to take his individual score to 26. The 111 innings taken by the Australian skipper is the joint second quickest in history along with Sir Garfield Sobers and behind only Sir Don Bradman who got there in just 68 innings.

To be in the company of the likes of Bradman and Sobers shows that the 28-year-old is as elite as they come in modern-day cricket and Smith could very well end up as one the greatest to have played the game if he keeps up this incredible hunger for runs.

Smith finds himself in elite company.

Smith finds himself in elite company.

CAMERON BANCROFT’S STRUGGLES CONTINUE

Bancroft showed a lot of promise on his Test debut in the Ashes opener at Brisbane with his unbeaten knock of 82 but since then, the opener has struggled to convert his starts.

He has failed to cross the 30-run mark since the Brisbane Test and the pressure would have been mounting on his shoulders when he came out to bat on Friday. Things did not go to plan for the right-hander though as he was dismissed for a duck to becomes Broad’s 399th Test victim.

He exposed an enormous gap between his bat and pads while attempting a drive but could only inside edge Broad’s in-swinging delivery onto his middle stump.

Bancroft's technique was all over the place as he was bowled for a duck.

Bancroft’s technique was all over the place as he was bowled for a duck.

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India captain Virat Kohli gives press conference a miss as batting coach Sanjay Bangar steps in

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Bangar expects seamers to thrive on the Newlands pitch.

Much to the dismay of the local media, India skipper Virat Kohli gave the traditional captains’ press-conference ahead of the first Test against South Africa a miss.

It was India batting coach Sanjay Bangar who fielded questions in place of the captain. Bangar indicated that India could opt for four bowlers at Newlands with the seaming conditions in mind.

“If it’s a bowling-friendly track then we might go with four bowlers and if the conditions are perceived to be batting-friendly we might opt for five bowlers. So that’s been the case right through the last 24 months and I don’t think it will be anything different here,” he said.

With spinning all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja still down with a viral flu, Bangar said that a final call on his availability would only be taken on Friday morning before the start of play. Meanwhile, he reaffirmed that opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan had been cleared to play at Newlands.

“Shikhar has been cleared and declared fit and is available for selection. Jadeja is yet to recover. His condition is still being monitored,” he stated.

Jadeja's availability remains uncertain as of now.

Jadeja’s availability remains uncertain as of now.

The India coach expects a lot of seam movement on the Newlands pitch which bears a healthy covering of grass.

“As of now the conditions we found, we expect the ball to seam around a bit on day one. On days two and three, they are going to be very good batting conditions. We will take into consideration the extent of moisture on the surface tomorrow and we will take it from there,” Bangar assessed.

The former India all-rounder was delighted with the pace attack at the visitors’ disposal.

“All of them have got enough experience under their belt. We have got Ishant Sharma who probably is having his third tour of South Africa and all the bowlers have been rotated really well taking into account the workloads,” Bangar remarked.

The Newlands Test will be the first of a three matches comprising the ‘Freedom Series’ followed by six ODIs and three T20Is.

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Newlands pitch delights South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis ahead of first India Test

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Du Plessis said that the Newlands pitch suited South Africa perfectly.

South African captain Faf du Plessis said on Thursday that the pitch for the first Test against India, starting at Newlands on Friday, looked ideal for his team.

“The groundsman has done a fantastic job,” said Du Plessis. “It’s been very, very hot but it looks like it’s going to be a good cricket wicket, nothing too extreme but it looks like it’s going to be exactly what we wanted.”

After several days of hot weather the match pitch had a mottled appearance. It looked less green than it was when the South Africans assembled on Tuesday but there was still a good covering of grass.

The ideal pitch, according to Du Plessis, is one that offers pace, bounce and some seam movement.

“You don’t want excessive movement that brings both bowling attacks into the game. We feel that our seam resources on a wicket that offers a bit of pace and bounce can exploit some areas in their batting line-up,” he said.

For the first time in more than a year, South Africa have all their key bowlers fit, while the returning AB de Villiers needs to be slotted into what has been a settled batting middle order.

“There are so many combinations,” said Du Plessis. “It is the hardest team selection I’ve been involved in. We have so many different options, we can almost pick different teams for different venues.”

The skipper believes Dale Steyn has lost none of his skills.

The skipper believes Dale Steyn has lost none of his skill.

Although coach Ottis Gibson indicated earlier in the week that it was unlikely Dale Steyn would be part of the fast bowling line-up after a long injury break, Du Plessis said the former world number one bowler had lost none of his skill.

“Dale for me is the best bowler in the world,” said Du Plessis. “He hasn’t played for a while. He hasn’t got the overs under his legs that he would have wanted but facing Dale in the nets it feels like he’s got the same pace, the same swing.”

Du Plessis admitted that South Africa had produced some disappointing results in the past two years, notably away to India and at home to England in 2015/16 and in England in 2017, but said conditions, particularly in India, and injuries has been a factor.

He said he looked forward to his team challenging for the number one Test ranking, currently held by India.

“The next two or three years are going to be very exciting for South African cricket. We can push very hard to not only get to number one but to stay there for quite a bit.”

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