South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg November 16, 2011

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

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.

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sabtain 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

  • Srinivasan on November 17, 2011, 13:37 GMT

    Another pretender from Australia making sound like Cummins.

  • Ross 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....

  • ashok 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...

  • Rohit 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Saeed 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 ....

  • Syed 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Satish 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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