Khawaja converts form into runs
Usman Khawaja cobbled together only 52 runs from four innings on Australia A's recent tour of Zimbabwe yet said he never felt out of form. He proved his own notion correct on day two of the Australians' tour match against Sri Lanka Board XI in Colombo, stroking an attractive and intelligent 101 (retired) in conditions Khawaja admitted were almost entirely foreign to him.
The innings gave Khawaja a grand chance of earning selection for the first Test at Galle, where he is likely to encounter a pitch not dissimilar to that at the P Sara Oval.
"I never felt like I was out of form because I was hitting the ball pretty well," Khawaja said. "But I was probably a bit underdone just having time in the middle and just to get out there and feel the conditions. It's a bit different in Sri Lanka. The wicket there is a lot different to what we get back home, so it was just fun to be out there.
"The wicket out there is a day-two wicket and it feels more like a day-four wicket back home; somewhere like the SCG or Adelaide. It's quite dead out there, surprising for a day-two wicket, and it was tough work at times because the ball sort of lost its air and trying to create power with the old ball just became some tough work."
Accompanied for much of his century by the opener Phil Hughes, Khawaja showed plenty of class, and will have the tour selectors pondering their options for the Galle Test. Khawaja, of course, did not want to look too far ahead.
"I think when you're out there that's probably far from your mind, you're concentrating on the ball coming down," he said. "Those things aren't in my control and I can just go out there and score runs. That's all I'm supposed to do as a batsman, just take some catches and make some run outs.
"I'd bat anywhere for the Australian team, but it all depends what's best for the team. I'm happy to bat anywhere from opener, all the way down to the middle and the No. 6 spot is the only one that's available. So if I'm lucky enough to get that spot … my first two hundreds for NSW were batting at six, I've done work there too."
Much is made of the subcontinental flourishes in Khawaja's technique, his wrists and hands allowing him to play the ball late and find gaps. But in environmental knowledge terms, Khawaja is very much a product of Australian surfaces, forcing a change in approach in his first innings of "red ball cricket" in Sri Lanka.
"I've never seen rough on day two like that before," Khawaja said. "Literally I was playing out there like it was a day-four wicket, batting in the second inning. That was the mindset we had out there because it was tough work out there. A lot of the guys mentioned how in patches you cannot score many then suddenly put 20 on in the space of two or three overs. So on the subcontinent from what I've heard, that's just how it is.
"Plans change, usually in Australia day two you don't have as much variable bounce and you can be a bit more confident in your strokeplay and a lot more fluent. But me and Hughesy [Phil Hughes] were playing our first red ball cricket in Sri Lanka conditions and we wanted to make sure we gave ourselves the best chance of getting runs. I think the hard yards need to be done early."
Hard yards in a physical sense also, but a pleasing element of Khawaja's innings is he did not appear to tire in considerable heat and humidity. For this he thanked the Australian coaching and fitness staff, who have put the tourists through plenty of torturous sessions thus far.
"To be honest 'Alfie' [Justin] Langer and some of the other guys just nailed us by the time we got here, so out there was a breeze compared to what they had for us," Khawaja said. "So I think we're quite used to it now."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo