Khawaja a new man - Lehmann
Usman Khawaja's increased work ethic and new, more aggressive style will hold him in good stead if he is given an extended run in Test cricket, according to his state coach Darren Lehmann. Khawaja is on standby for Australia's captain Michael Clarke for the third Test against Sri Lanka in Sydney but even if he does not play in that match, he has a strong chance of being installed as the replacement for the retiring Michael Hussey for the upcoming tour of India.
Khawaja, 26, has played six Tests but was dropped last summer and told he needed to work on several aspects of his all-round game, including his fielding and ensuring he rotated the strike while at the crease. His off-season move from New South Wales to Queensland allowed Khawaja to work with Lehmann, a respected coach who has aimed to instil an attacking mindset into his charges over his two seasons at the helm.
"I've been really impressed, he has adapted to a new aggressive style of play that we're really big on in Queensland," Lehmann told ESPNcricinfo of Khawaja's approach this season. "He's adjusted to that really well. We're really impressed with what he's doing and how he's gone about it.
"Technically there weren't too many changes, it was more a mindset with him and getting him to be really aggressive and positive in what he's doing. He's taken that on board. He has improved his fielding, he has improved his work ethic off the ground and we're really pleased for him."
Although Khawaja is not locked in as Hussey's replacement, it is expected he will at the very least be part of Australia's touring squads to India and England this year. In his Test appearances so far, Khawaja has shown promise without posting a big score - he has made 263 runs at 29.22 with only one half-century from 11 innings - and Lehmann said if he was given an extended run in the side it would do his confidence a world of good.
"If he gets a good run at it, that's what you want," Lehmann said. "If he can get that run and he doesn't have that fear of getting dropped straight away, he'll do well. We're pretty confident with where he's at and where he's going. He's a good kid and he's worked really hard to get where he wants to get to."
However, the one area of Khawaja's game that he still needs to improve is his conversion rate of half-centuries to hundreds. During his 2012 count season with Derbyshire, Khawaja passed fifty on seven occasions but only once did he go on to triple figures. For Queensland this summer, Khawaja has managed three half-centuries and one hundred from 11 first-class innings.
"He does have to get big hundreds," Lehmann said. "He's got four or five fifties for us in Shield cricket and only gone on once to get one hundred. We have spoken about conversion rate and that is a big thing, but he's playing that expansive game now so he has to find the happy medium. He will do that."
The one Shield century Khawaja has scored this season was one of the finest the competition has witnessed in a long time, as he cruised to 138 from 178 deliveries on a green seaming Bellerive Oval pitch that was so difficult that no other batsman from either side managed a half-century. Khawaja's work at No. 3 for the Bulls in that game was the reason they were able to complete an innings victory inside three days.
"It was outstanding," Lehmann said. "It was one of the best hundreds I've seen in Shield cricket. I don't think anyone else made fifty runs. It was really impressive."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here