Khawaja comfortable with opener's role
Usman Khawaja is prepared to open the batting alongside David Warner on Boxing Day, but will first test his healing hamstring to the limit for the Sydney Thunder on Sunday evening.
Many have pondered whether it is Joe Burns who is more likely than Shaun Marsh to find himself on the outer when the national selectors try to work out who will miss out should Khawaja be fit to return to the Australian Test team. While Marsh has stated his comfort with batting at No. 5, Khawaja is far less fussed, given he often opened for New South Wales, and the fact that a No. 3 batsman can often find himself batting within an over or two of the start of an innings.
Questions about the wisdom of breaking up the fruitful opening combination of Burns and Warner may be countered by the fact that Khawaja has known the vice-captain for many years, and would also be a complementary player given his tendency to be more deliberate. The pair certainly looked at ease in fashioning big partnerships in the first two Tests against New Zealand before Khawaja's hamstring strain. They also share a manager.
"It doesn't bother me batting anywhere in the top six, I wouldn't want to bat seven," Khawaja said. "I'm easy, in first-class cricket I've batted every position from one to six. If they wanted me to bat one, three, five, I'll still approach the game in the same sort of manner. That's not a big deal to me.
"There's been plenty of times where I've been there the second ball batting, there's not a big difference batting three or opening at times, at other times there is. Sometimes I can be in there in the 30th over batting at three, but it's just a mindset sort of thing. I grew up all my life opening; I started playing for NSW at five and six, so I've had a bit of both."
Twenty20's often frenetic pace makes it a demanding test of niggling injuries, as the decision to rest Australia's captain Steven Smith, due to knee and hip ailments, has demonstrated. Khawaja has not been known as the most dynamic fielder or runner between the wickets, but said he would be pushing himself as hard as possible, even though he admitted he was often left with sore hamstrings after T20 matches.
"For your hammies definitely [it's a challenge]," he said. "If there's one thing that gets real sore after a T20 game for me it's my hamstrings, so it's going to be a test. I'm not going to go out there and nurse it in any way because I want to test it - I don't want to go into Boxing Day without having that sort of confidence under my belt. I'm going to go out pretty hard, do what I can and get some game time back in.
"I had to do some hamstring tests, they went really well, a big improvement from where I was a week ago. I've done fitness tests all the way through the last four weeks, yesterday was probably the final one ... it tests your hamstring strength. I had to make sure I was above a certain number and make sure my left and right were within a certain number so there wasn't a big discrepancy. I got through that really well, so happy with it."
As much as Khawaja will want to return to the Test side, he will also be motivated by helping the Thunder maintain their fine start, having finally beaten the rival Sydney Sixers in the tournament opener. "I can't be in line to play Boxing Day unless I get through tomorrow night," he said. "So I won't be thinking about getting past tomorrow night, I'll be going 100% to hopefully win. We'll get through that and see what happens next.
"I'm just trying to get fit, play for the Thunder tomorrow, get a win, join the guys for the Christmas celebrations and then it's up to the selectors and coach to do what's next. All I can do is put my hand up, say I'm fit, hopefully I can do that, then the rest will take care of itself either way."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig