Stronger, fitter Khawaja set for Boxing Day Test
Usman Khawaja believes his hamstrings are stronger than they have been for three years, after he spent a month on the sidelines recovering from a strain to his left hamstring. Khawaja suffered the injury in the second Test against New Zealand in Perth and is set to return for the Boxing Day Test against West Indies, after proving his fitness with a BBL hundred at the MCG on Sunday night.
Khawaja batted through the Sydney Thunder innings and showed his remarkable form had not diminished despite missing Australia's last two Tests. He has been working with staff at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane since sustaining the injury and was able to bat in the nets for most of that time. On Monday, he said he had recovered well after his unbeaten 109 of the previous evening.
"I'm stoked I got some batting time," he said. "To score a hundred in a T20 game is not an easy thing to do, so I'm just very happy with how things are working out. But there's still a lot of work to do so I'm trying to keep my head down. I feel really good, just normal, general soreness ... I pushed myself pretty hard, in terms of my hammy rehab, in terms of my running, in terms of my conditioning work.
"My hamstrings are definitely stronger than they have been in the last three years. The last testing I had to do on Friday was a hamstring strength test and my hamstrings came up stronger than they have been in the last three years. I did a lot of hard work in the last four weeks. The trainers up at the NCC pushed me pretty hard. That's what I needed to do. That's all I can control."
Khawaja has now scored centuries in his last three games - the Brisbane and Perth Tests against New Zealand, and the T20 match on Sunday. He appears a certain inclusion against West Indies for his first appearance in a Boxing Day Test, which will leave Australia's selectors with the difficult decision of whether to drop Shaun Marsh after his 182 in the Hobart Test, or opener Joe Burns.
Burns scored a century against New Zealand at the Gabba and while he made starts in all three Tests since then, he has not passed fifty since that innings. That means there is a strong chance that Khawaja will be asked to open with David Warner on Boxing Day. Khawaja said coach Darren Lehmann had wanted him to push himself to his limits in the BBL game to replicate as best as possible the wear and tear he would face in a Test.
"I just needed to go out there and play as I would any other game," he said. "I couldn't go out there and try to nurse it or not go 100% because I know that's not what Boof wants. I knew I'd done all the hard work so I was always going to go hard no matter what.
"In Twenty20, you're sprinting every ball. In Test match cricket, you're not sprinting every ball so it's a little bit different. Five-day cricket is a different type of fatigue. I'm really glad with the way I've pulled up after this game. It's a good indicator of how I would pull up after a five-day game."
Australia's squad gathers in Melbourne on Tuesday and will have their first training session on Wednesday ahead of the Test, which starts on Saturday. Some of Australia's squad members have played BBL matches over the past week, while West Indies spent the weekend playing against an under-strength Victoria XI in a two-day match in Geelong.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale