New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, Wellington, 2nd day February 13, 2016

Lehmann's backing gave me confidence - Khawaja


Usman Khawaja brought up his fourth first-innings ton on the trot in Wellington © Getty Images

If Usman Khawaja has looked calm since returning to Australia's Test team this summer, there is a reason for it. And not just because he keeps piling up centuries though, of course, that helps. After completing his 140 against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve, his fourth consecutive first-innings hundred in Tests, Khawaja said that a reassuring chat with coach Darren Lehmann at the start of the season contributed to his success.

Khawaja's recall came more than two years after he had last played Test cricket, on the 2013 Ashes tour when Lehmann had just been installed as the new coach. When he was cut following the Chester-le-Street Test it was the third time he had been axed from Australia's Test team, on each occasion after a run of three Tests. It was not until the first Test at the Gabba this summer that a Test ton finally arrived.

"It's hard to put a finger on one thing - I'm not sure if there is one thing," Khawaja said after play on the second day in Wellington. "But I always felt when I first played for Australia that I was sort of playing for my spot a little bit. I never really felt like I was in the team, felt like I was sort of looking over my shoulder.

"This time it came around, I scored a hundred first game and that sort of relieved the pressure a little bit. But even before I played that first game, Boof [Darren Lehmann] sort of had a chat to me and just told me to relax. He said I'd get a fair crack at it. So that kind of helped too.

"It's just been a really relaxed atmosphere. It's what you want when you're playing at the highest level. Because there's enough pressure and whatever stuff goes on around it, you just want to get into the best position and best head-space possible. It helps that we've played some pretty decent cricket since I've come back, we've won a lot of games which always helps."

During his first few goes at Test cricket Khawaja was sometimes viewed, perhaps unfairly, as too laid-back; there was a perception that he didn't work hard enough. But underneath there was always a certain amount of tension that affected his game: too often he found himself bogged down at the crease.

Not so in his latest incarnation as a Test batsman. Not only has Khawaja now made successive first-innings scores of 174, 121, 144 and 140, he has done his scoring at a much quicker tempo. The real Khawaja is finally shining through, and at the Basin Reserve his class was on display as he picked gaps seemingly at will, scoring all around the ground and striking 25 fours out of his 140 runs.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this century, compared to those he scored in Australia this summer, was that this one came in challenging conditions against a ball that, at least initially, was moving around off the pitch. Rarely did Khawaja play and miss outside off stump, instead leaving the ball effectively, and waited for the scoring opportunities to come in his areas.

"I wouldn't say it swung massively yesterday but it did a bit off the deck which made it tough," Khawaja said. "It probably swung more today with the new ball. I was only out there for four overs with the new ball but it felt like it was swinging more today than yesterday.

"The wicket felt decent yesterday afternoon when I was there and it felt decent today. If you put it in the right spot enough times there's still chances. And you saw chances throughout the whole day. Some of our players chanced their arm and got away with it and that happens. I still think there's enough in this deck to create chances. You need a little bit of luck on your side today as well."

One major piece of good fortune for the Australians came late on the first afternoon, when Adam Voges was bowled off a wrongly called no-ball delivered by Doug Bracewell. Voges made the most of his chance and batted right through day two to finish on 176 not out, meaning he had still not been dismissed in Tests since Adelaide in November. His 168-run stand with Khawaja was key to Australia taking control of the Test.

"Almost faultless, the way he went about it," Khawaja said of Voges. "He batted very sensibly, patiently at the start, a lot of good shots straight to fielders, didn't get frustrated with it, batted the whole day. The way he's been batting lately it honestly feels like he's not going to get out sometimes. He's making hundreds and big hundreds, which is important for the team."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayaz Hussain on February 15, 2016, 18:26 GMT

    Usman Khawaja, Wonderful Player, Insha Allah soon accros all formats of Cricket you will be top of ICC Ranking

  • Cricinfouser on February 15, 2016, 3:31 GMT

    @drew his commitment was never in question. The fact that you were a nay sayer simply based off of what you read says more about you than anything else.

  • abdul.wahid on February 14, 2016, 12:12 GMT

    Wonderful 140 by Khawaja. I could watch him bat all day. One thing that really stands out about him this tour so far is his fielding: he has proved a lot of people wrong who said that he fielding wasn't up to standard. Splendid catch on the boundary in the first innings, and a very well judged running catch in the second innings as well! Usie just needs to be consistent now; if he can maintain his batting form for a whole year or 2, he could easily top the ICC rankings.

  •   Keith Rodrigues on February 13, 2016, 22:22 GMT

    Khawaja has become a totally different player ever since hitting his stride as captain of the QLD bulls, making plenty of double centuries in the shield comp. I think he wouldn't have been able to develop further of he had stayed in NSW, players often have to move states to get their chance (Peter Neville).

  • Alexk400 on February 13, 2016, 20:04 GMT

    Khawaja enemy is steve smith. The second his form drops smith throw him to the curb. Why ? Smith like players who does everything he ask. At present kawaja not doing fielding that well. Very damn lazy for an australian.

  • Thomas on February 13, 2016, 15:39 GMT

    wrongly called no

  • CoverDrive88 on February 13, 2016, 15:20 GMT

    Well done Boof, although he has just done what should have been done much earlier - stuck with him. I've always felt that he was treated badly by Mickey Arthur, wasn't helped by Clarke hiding at 4 & never got a decent run. Look at all the time MMarsh is getting at 6 on the basis of a bit of bowling and scores on rock-hard, flat 1-day wickets. I think Arthur and others in the team thought that because he is quieter and "laid-back" he wasn't serious, and forgot he comes from a different cultural background. The guy has more talent than anyone we've had for a long time. He reminds me a lot of Mark Waugh, except that he doesn't seem to lose interest at 100. If they had persevered with him then, we would have gotten this sort of performance earlier. And all the talk about fielding is over-hyped, especially in Tests. I don't think he wasn't trying but in Tests, I'll take an excellent bat whose fielding is ok over a fielding star who struggles to get runs (or an extra quick at 6).

  • Drew12 on February 13, 2016, 13:10 GMT

    I must admit to being a consistent nay-sayer on Khawaja, even throughout this season. Mostly based on what this article described as his 'laid-back' attitude. I'm not sure I'm going to be holding a banner for him lol, but more than anything that catch to finish off the NZ innings has me convinced that he can become a permanent member of the squad. His dedication to being a professional cricketer has definitely improved (batting/bowling, fielding, catching and commitment to the team), but I'm not sure he's actually been properly tested just yet. I was on the fence about Warner as a test cricketer until his innings in Hobart when he almost got the team home. I'm going to stay on the fence with Khawaja until he displays the same sense of grit and determination in conditions that do not suit his natural game. Especially if he's going to bat at 3.

  • M@sK_Lanka on February 13, 2016, 10:50 GMT

    I personally feel clark didnt like khwaja due to his routs. keeping him mentally unsettled so he had to fight for his spot from very first game.

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on February 13, 2016, 9:29 GMT

    People are quick to judge these days and players are written off after coming in and not immediately succeeding. As mentioned there is a list of players like Hayden, Langer, Martyn etc who had to go away and work on their game before coming back to succeed. Khawaja has obviously worked and thought hard and his batting now is a joy to watch.

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