South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg

Khawaja's chance to make the starts count

Australia are hopeful Shaun Marsh will be fit for the first Test against New Zealand, which starts on December 1, so Usman Khawaja needs to make the most of his opportunity at the Wanderers

Brydon Coverdale in Johannesburg

November 16, 2011

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Usman Khawaja will replace Shaun Marsh at No.3 for the Johannesburg Test knowing that he can learn a valuable lesson from Marsh in converting starts. In January, Khawaja excited Australia's cricket fans with a composed 37 in his first innings of Test cricket, followed by 21 in the second innings against England.

They were not earth-shattering scores, but it was the way Khawaja made his runs that caught one's attention. He was not overawed by the pressure of replacing the injured Ricky Ponting in an Ashes Test. He placed the ball beautifully and did not look flustered.

Fast-forward eight months and another batsman was given an opportunity at No. 3 because of Ponting's absence. Shaun Marsh duly struck a century on debut and followed it with 81 in his second Test, when Ponting returned and Khawaja was squeezed out of the side. Khawaja's Test scores of 37, 21, 21, 26 and 13 not out had been dwarfed.

Now the wheel has turned again, and it's Khawaja and Ponting in the side, with Marsh at home in Perth nursing a back injury. Australia are hopeful Marsh will be fit for the first Test against New Zealand, which starts on December 1, so Khawaja needs to make the most of his opportunity at the Wanderers. If Ponting fails and the selectors act, there could even be room for both Khawaja and Marsh in the near future.

Usman Khawaja made a handy 26, Sri Lanka v Australia, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day, September 2, 2011
If Ponting fails and the selectors act, there could even be room for both Khawaja and Marsh in the near future © AFP

"Every Test match is an opportunity," Khawaja said. "I would love to take it with both hands and score runs, but I can't promise that. I just have to go out there and make sure I control the controllables. I know it's a cliche, but if you start worrying about yourself, things usually don't go well. You have to put the team ahead of yourself and if I get the chance, that's what I want to do.

"I felt really comfortable in all three Test matches. I haven't put up a big total yet. I've really enjoyed my time there. I felt everyone was really supportive. I felt a part of the team, which is probably the biggest thing. I got a taste of Test cricket and realised that obviously it is a massive step-up in terms of who's watching, outside influences and all that. But when you're on the park it's pretty much the same thing. When I get out in the middle it's just bat versus ball."

Not that he has been out in the middle yet on this tour. Khawaja came on the trip fresh from a pair of centuries in his only two matches of the Australia domestic season for New South Wales, but since arriving in South Africa he has been limited to long sessions in the nets with the assistant coach Justin Langer.

"I feel really good right now," he said. "I've hit a lot of balls. Me and Alf [Langer], we've hit a million balls. In Potch [Potchefstroom] the nets were quite dodgy and I played a few sessions there, so I got a good hit in there. I played a couple of games before I left, which was only about two weeks ago, so it hasn't been that long since I've played in a game."

A classy left-hander who admired Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist as a young man, Khawaja will be pleased with his return to first drop after he was asked to bat at No.6 in Sri Lanka. The captain Michael Clarke confirmed Khawaja would be back in his favourite position for this Test, with Ricky Ponting to slide back down to No.4.

"He bats in the top of the order for New South Wales. He's batted at No.3 for Australia," Clarke said. "The one thing I said to Ussie is that I take a lot of confidence out of his cricket at the moment. In Sri Lanka he batted at No.6 and I thought he did a pretty good job. He batted No.3 for Australia when Ricky missed that last Test at the SCG and did pretty well there.

"He's a very good all-round player who can bat anywhere in the order so it's a good string to his bow. I think he enjoys playing the faster bowlers, probably a little bit more at the start of his innings, but he showed in Sri Lanka he plays spin very well as well, so I'm really confident he's high on confidence. He's coming off a hundred back home in Australia in first-class cricket, I'm confident he'll be able to slip straight in and have some success for us."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by sabee66 on (November 17, 2011, 14:12 GMT)

I wish him GOOD LUCK, he has proved in the past about his talent and style, now he has to show his luck as well well done kiddo Good on you

Posted by Srini_Chennai on (November 17, 2011, 13:37 GMT)

Another pretender from Australia making sound like Cummins.

Posted by RossA on (November 17, 2011, 11:56 GMT)

This is v amusing...the guy has done NOTHING yet and yet some Aussies are coming out with ridiculous comments like he will replace Hussey as best batsmen in world in 5 years??!! I don't know where to start on that to be honest...first of all Hussey is not in top 5 best Test batsmen playing right now. Secondly against the England bowling attack picked from Tremlett/Finn/Bresnan/Anderson/Broad/Swann he will be lucky to even get a 50 in the next Ashes series. He looks stylish but that is it for now....

Posted by indianzen on (November 17, 2011, 10:54 GMT)

Khwaja, who? Better they replace Ferguson for Tests, Having seen usman play around, I would say, he is not so good in front foot and on side shorts...

Posted by TheAscendancybegins on (November 17, 2011, 7:21 GMT)

It is great to see the confidence in Usman Khawaja and it is this youth that will lift Australia. With this, the rising form levels of Graeme Smith, Amla and Steyn will test the Aussies but I think they will turn the corner soon and show that they can be a good team. It is a disappointment that this test series is just 2 matches. Australia vs South Africa deserve more.

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 6:52 GMT)

Congrats to Khawaja, hopefully Ponting will move over and leave Marsh, Khawaja and even Ferguson fighting for the baggy green.

Posted by Saeed.Lodhi on (November 17, 2011, 5:45 GMT)

Punter should walk away with his dignity still in tact ... I hate to see players like punter being shown the door ... Ussie & Marsh should be given an extend run while they are at oozing with confidence ....

Posted by sherishahmir on (November 17, 2011, 5:30 GMT)

Good coincidence that two Pak origin players, Usman Khawaja and Imran Tahir are going to represent the two top playing test teams, virtually its is gone to be one of the most exciting series of the year after India and England series earlier become one side affair, hoping ozzie will be bounce back in style and levels the series.

Ponting should play at his best abilities and shut the mouth of critics, though he is the top batsman the world has ever seen in cricket and should quit cricket at earliest in future as what he done in cricket is memorable for good like what great Clive Lyod, westindian had done.

Good luck to both sides, hoping an exciting end of series.

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 3:02 GMT)

I don't really see the point in Punter being in the Australian side anymore...he will be 37 next month which makes me wonder whether he will even take part in the next Ashes. It's time for Australia to blood some new talent and give the likes of Khawaja,Shaun Marsh an extended run in the side.

Posted by satish619chandar on (November 17, 2011, 1:28 GMT)

As far as i saw in SL test, he looked a bit tensed.. Hope he is cooler this time.. It would have helped if he is an automatic selection rather than a replacement for Marsh!! Hope he performs well and demands place next test..

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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