Khawaja scores ton in Thunder's one-run win
Sydney Thunder 6 for 178 (Khawaja 109*) beat Melbourne Stars 5 for 177 (Pietersen 76, Faulkner 45*) by 1 run
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Has Usman Khawaja really just missed a month of cricket? The apparent ease with which he compiled a match-winning BBL century for the Sydney Thunder suggested a man who was in rare form, which Khawaja had been in early November when he scored hundreds in back-to-back Tests against New Zealand. Australia's selectors will be thrilled that his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury has not affected his touch.
Khawaja is expected to walk back into Australia's team for the Boxing Day Test against West Indies after his unbeaten 109 from 70 deliveries for the Thunder, an innings in which he showed no fitness concerns after a month out of the game. He batted through the Thunder innings for his first Twenty20 century as they posted 6 for 178, and in the end it proved enough for the team's second consecutive win at the start of the BBL - though only just.
Kevin Pietersen nearly led the Melbourne Stars to a remarkable heist at the MCG, where he struck a highly entertaining 76 from 42 deliveries that pushed the Stars close to their target. They needed 51 from the final four overs but Pietersen drastically reduced the required rate by plundering three sixes off a Gurinder Sandhu over that brought 27 in total, and left the Stars needing just 27 off the final three overs.
However, in the penultimate over Pietersen skied a pull off Clint McKay and was well caught at fine leg by Fawad Ahmed, which gave the Thunder a sniff once again after Pietersen seemed to take the match out of their hands. But the renowned finisher James Faulkner remained at the crease and with 10 needed off the last over, Thunder captain Michael Hussey entrusted the responsibility to his most experienced bowler, Jacques Kallis.
Kallis dug the ball in rather than giving Faulkner length, and two runs came from each of the first three deliveries of the over. But a pair of dot balls followed, including one that Faulkner missed as he tried to scoop Kallis over the wicktekeeper's head, and he could manage only two runs from the last ball as the Stars finished one run short of the Thunder, on 5 for 177, with Faulkner on 45.
Andre Russell had given the Thunder a good start to their bowling innings by removing both openers, Luke Wright and Marcus Stoinis, in the sixth over, and he finished with 2 for 28 from his four overs. But the key to the Thunder's win was unquestionably Khawaja, who was playing his first match in any format since the second Test against New Zealand at the WACA in mid-November, when he suffered his hamstring injury.
He scored runs all around the wicket and his placement was exquisite. He struck 12 fours and three sixes, mostly from regulation cricket shots but also with the occasional touch of T20 flair, such as when he scooped John Hastings for a boundary over the head of the wicketkeeper. Khawaja brought up his hundred - the first of this BBL summer - from his 62nd delivery, and he was pleased with how his hamstring fared.
"I'm really happy with the way it felt," Khawaja said. "The test was how it would feel when I went back into the field, backing up, and it felt really good. The longer I was out there the more I started trusting my body. I was a little bit anxious at the start but the further on I got through the more happy I felt. I'll keep trying to tick all the boxes and … fingers crossed I'll be right for the rest of the summer."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale