January 3, 2011

Sweet Fifteen

Christian Ryan
Usman Khawaja pulls during his Test debut, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day, January 3, 2011
Usman Khawaja's second scoring stroke in Test cricket was a cracking pull through midwicket  © Getty Images

He awoke a Test cricketer, and for the rest of the day being awake felt dreamier than the deepest sleep. His first ball brought his first runs, a tidy tuck off his thigh pad. His second ball was wider and announced his first boundary: a perfectly middled pull stroke from outside off stump, which takes some doing, audacious yet safe, which takes some explaining.

Usman Khawaja’s third ball was his first dot ball, gloves flung high and away from strife. Seventh ball, a roll of the wrists and a clip through square leg, heralded his first all-along-the-ground boundary. On his eighth ball he unfurled his first cut shot, chopping it down straight, the ball rebounding high off the wicket and zigzagging away. That took him to 15 and prompted the day’s first so-crazy-it’s-worth-asking question: when did an Australian cricketer last begin his Test lifetime with 15 runs timed so sweetly or gathered so blissfully?

On his ninth ball he blocked one, another first. Successful negotiation of his 16th ball marked his first maiden over. Richie Benaud, meanwhile, was savouring his first eyeful of Khawaja in the batting flesh. Khawaja was 20 not out when Benaud began invoking the giant-booted maestros of yesteryear, wondering aloud “if Australia’s just found another one”.

Alas, by that stage Khawaja was already slightly muzzled by England’s back-of-a-length bowling. He got out dumb, outfoxed, for 37, accepting an opposition dare to sweep over a too-close fieldsman’s head and dollying the ball into said fieldsman’s hands.

But those first 15 … Khawaja choked the bat handle, hands down low, hands that went limp and loose whenever a ball caught the bat’s edge, as if he knew the edge was coming, as if by clairvoyance, and as the ball thudded safely to ground and through the slips cordon for runs you couldn’t be certain whether the edge was accidental or not. A bunch of scoreless deliveries all in a row held no fear. A false stroke or two induced no heart flutter. He played and missed at one ball from Tim Bresnan and pursed his lips, then maintained his pursed-lip pose for a full 10 seconds. An anxious debutant might try to hide that. Not Khawaja.

Only 15, I hear you say. But these 15, as sure as anything is sure in cricket, were the first 15 of many.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and, most recently Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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Posted by pasha on (January 6, 2011, 12:07 GMT)

he will be an asset for Australia in future

Posted by Sven Weichbrodt on (January 4, 2011, 7:54 GMT)

Dear Australian Selectors,

You have made very little sense as of late. I understand that with the retirement of the likes of Warne, Hayden, Gilchrist, Langer and McGrath you have been required to actually think and I know this has proved hard for you.

North dropped after 2 bad matches whilst Clarke is still in after 5?!?!?!?

Doherty when Hauritz has at least proved honest and reliable ?!?!?!?!?

Smith a child of T20 who simply does not have the footwork or shot selection for test cricket ?!?!?!?!?

Bringing an out of form Hughes back to replace Katich, suspect technique and all?!?!?!?

However, with Usman Khawaja we have the iconic Benaud wondering “if Australia’s just found another one”

Please, please, PLEASE persist with him. Don’t think, don’t act, just listen as I believe Usman is the real deal and will contribute magnificently to Australian cricket.

Posted by Madhur on (January 4, 2011, 7:23 GMT)

Well written piece, not to mention the subject!!! Khwaja is a great prospect unearthed for australia no doubt

Posted by ray on (January 4, 2011, 3:16 GMT)

this man usman is next aussi great!!!!!! mark my word.

Posted by Anonymous on (January 4, 2011, 2:34 GMT)

this is fluke

Posted by nineteenineteen on (January 3, 2011, 23:04 GMT)

That first boundary of his was gorgeous. If he doesn't play a significant role in Australia's future, I'll eat my shoe.

Posted by Sachith on (January 3, 2011, 19:08 GMT)

Nice written..Surely Khawaja has the potential to become one of the "Aussi"..!!!

Posted by Spooner on (January 3, 2011, 14:51 GMT)

Usman Afzaal more like.

Posted by vin on (January 3, 2011, 11:55 GMT)

The kid has talent.

Posted by Nazmul Hasan on (January 3, 2011, 11:07 GMT)

There was lot of talking about Usman Khawaja's before the match starts. I did not see him before, how he bats and how he plays. All I knew was, he is a good batsman. So I was waiting for his arrival on the crease. He is bold, he is confident, he has patience, good technique and most importantly he is matured in the game of cricket. Yes he made a little mistake by playing the sweep shot; otherwise he would have been batting tomorrow with Mike Hussey. To me, its really doesn’t matter. I forgive him for that mistake.

Those 37 runs telling me and rest of the cricket world that Usman was born for cricket. He has a bright future. Most importantly Australia has found a batsman who will be permanently number 3 and Ricky Ponting can play at number 5 or Usman can open the innings and ponting can play at #3.

Australia has found another ponting on Usman

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Christian Ryan
Christian Ryan lives in Melbourne, writes and edits, was once the editor of The Monthly magazine and Wisden Australia, and now bowls low-grade, high-bouncing legbreaks with renewed zeal in recognition of Stuart MacGill's retirement and the selection opportunities this presents. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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