Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2011

Composed Khawaja conquers debut nerves

Usman Khawaja's start in Test cricket was stylish and breathtaking, a 24-year-old with enough faith in his game to express himself so beautifully, so quickly
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On a day of nerves at the SCG hardly any were felt by Usman Khawaja, the debutant who strode like a veteran. The ground's regulars were collectively so nervous that the stands could have shuddered as well when he walked out straight after lunch. If Khawaja sensed that he didn't belong at Test level the feeling lasted a delivery.

A push for two to midwicket from his first ball, a composed start in itself, was followed by the most convincing statement that he was a young man made for a spot in Australia's top six. Khawaja has come in for Ricky Ponting and like his predecessor, who in his long-lasting prime delivered regular early punches, the newcomer leaned back and pulled his second delivery for four.

It was stylish and breathtaking, a 24-year-old with enough faith in his game to express himself so beautifully, so quickly. Chris Tremeltt is not express but he briefly seemed like a medium pacer as Khawaja forced himself back to pull and swivel, his bat appearing to move quickest when he dropped it after contact and it fell by his side. He didn't bother to run and tried not to admire the shot too much. Sensibly, and equally as importantly, he left his next ball outside off stump.

The pattern was repeated during his assured 37 as he surged forward and then slowed down, exhibiting the type of thoughtful top-order batting which modern players raised on Twenty20 struggle to understand. Khawaja hasn't turned out in a lot of short-form cricket and it shows. While Phillip Hughes and Steven Smith carry ungainly techniques and unstable temperaments, Khawaja has already worked on mastering his with a baggy green as the ultimate reward. A pull so early from Hughes and Smith would have looked irresponsible, but from Khawaja it was perfectly in tune.

So while his mother Fauzia clenched her hands together and struggled to watch, and his father Tariq was too tense to move, their son was free of tension. "I was most emotional when I got my baggy green in the morning [from Mark Taylor]," he said. "After I got that I calmed down a little." He even lay in the dressing room and tried to sleep for 20 minutes during lunch.

With a flick off his toes to square leg for four and a cut for two off Tremlett, he raced to 15 off eight balls. On the radio Kerry O'Keeffe tried to remember the name of Australia's old No.3. "Was it Rod Ponting," he wondered.

There was a danger the fireball would burn out quickly but Khawaja, who is Australia's first Muslim Test representative, is not one to get carried away. He played out a maiden from Tremlett to regain a five-day tempo in an act of patience that was as instructive as his early rush. Here was a debutant ready for the elevation, not one promoted ahead of time.

Of course Khawaja, who moved from Islamabad when he was three, is more than a cricketer. He thinks being born in Pakistan and playing for Australia is more significant than his religion, "which is quite personal to me". "You can make something out of anything," he said of his history-making heritage. "You can say Michael Beer is the first person to stick his tongue out 24/7 to play for Australia."

It may be that Khawaja holds this key spot in the order even if Ponting holds off retirement and returns from his finger surgery in Australia's next series against Sri Lanka in August. If he does, the early signs were extremely encouraging.

When England readjusted, taking out the short leg and aiming for outside off stump, the task became tougher for Khawaja. There were a couple of edges, but he used soft hands to take pace off the ball and they dropped short of the slips. Mostly he stood tall, offering a wide bat to defuse the sideways movement. There was strength in his defence and attack.

There was plenty to concern Khawaja, with the side lapsing after a solid start, and the cloudy, often rainy, conditions adding extra danger. He didn't fluster and waited for balls to steer through gully, get off strike with a single, or leave. Tim Bresnan delivered one short and Khawaja stepped back and pulled it before he aimed a loose drive behind point in the air. Both times after finding the boundary he left the next delivery.

Showers were about to arrive when Khawaja was faced with the challenge of Graeme Swann's offspin. Having deflected so many hazards, he decided on a sweep and the top edge lobbed to fine leg. As he reached the dressing room the players headed off for a rain break that brought an early end to play, increasing the costliness of his first real mistake.

Australia finished at 4 for 134 and Khawaja was sad to finish so soon. "You never want to get out, especially the last ball of the day," he said. "It's unfortunate, I would have loved to have been 37 not out."

He received a text on the eve of the game from Michael Clarke telling him to enjoy the most special day of his life. "As soon as I was out there it felt like the best thing ever," Khawaja said. "I was out there playing for Australia and the crowd was right behind me."

Often a batsman posts a score in the 30s and it means nothing. On a miserable day Khawaja showed enough in 122 minutes for Australian fans to be excited about the future. There is much for him to learn, but already there is so much to like.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on January 6, 2011, 4:41 GMT

    @biggus, couldnt agree more... really proud moment for his mom...

  • dummy4fb on January 4, 2011, 19:12 GMT

    @ BlackArcher& Abhishek Asthana: Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Hashim Amla, Ravi Bopara First 2 players belongs to a 7th or 8th ranked team, Ravi Bopara is not even in the team right now and i am extreamly sorry that they are no ETC thats it :-). Players like Usman Khawaja, Imran Tahir, Sajjid Mehmood, Nasir Hussain (The Great English Captain), and many more are still representing their country's team.

  • big_cheese on January 4, 2011, 15:11 GMT

    @hulk777 - I agree that Punter hasn't been in terrific form in the last two years which is why his average is dropped. I also agree that he got immense help from his fellow batsman. There is no denying that he also had the best of the bowlers on his team who would take care of the opposition when Aussies bowled first. Still, if you want to bat like the way he did 'WHEN HE WAS IN PEAK FORM', it's gotta take some serious talent & skill. Again, do I like him personally? Hell no... Do (read did) I admire his batting abilities? As an outsider (a non-Aussie), I envy his dominating skills. So, before we even compare Khwaja to Punter, we gotta give this kid a few more opportunities. One more point, every batsman reaches peak form and stays there for a while. But, reaching peak form and staying there for so long and demolishing the opponents is just incredible stuff from the punter. It is just a coincidence that he had the best guys on his team - when he hit the peak.

  • boeman on January 4, 2011, 7:03 GMT

    This is a massive step by Cricket Oz and Oz as a whole.... I am sure there were many non Oz supporters urging this kid on yesterday. I was one of them. God speed and may this be the birth of a new star.

  • dummy4fb on January 4, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    @blackarcher and abhishek asthana. the difference between khawaja and the players you mentioned is that khawaja was born in Pakistan. Hashim Amla, Chanderpaul and others you mentioned were born in their respective countries. YES!! we are always PROUD of our fellow pakistani's achievements!!

  • hulk777 on January 4, 2011, 5:48 GMT

    @big_cheese, Did you really mean "he dominated the cricket world in a way that no one in my lifetime ". You cant call it dominating when coming to crease after Hayden and Langer had demoralized the bowling and score runs against a tired team. How many runs he has scored in last 2 years when he came to crease almost in first 1hr. Why is his average in last 2 years 30 odd compared to his high average when every one in the team was having a ball. You have to define dominating before using it. Sorry, he was only as good his team. Give few examples where he batted his team out of a hopeless situation to win a game. You can go over your life time to provide those examples.

  • Biggus on January 4, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    @karn-I am afraid you've misunderstood me. I was not referring to his selection but his being 'welcomed' by the Australian public, which of course does have a great deal to do with our inherent nature. To be honest, I thought that was pretty obvious from my comment. Anyway, Cheers!

  • AjaySridharan on January 4, 2011, 4:35 GMT

    I liked the look of this kid for sure and would be thrilled to see him blossom into a great batsman. But it is too early to sing praises. I thought only India did that...but as Harsha Bhogle said, behavior patterns of those low on confidence seems to be similar across cultures! Australia seems so desperate for a hero!

  • Bo_Diddly on January 4, 2011, 2:59 GMT

    The most important fact about Usman is that he broke a barrier ! Australia has been the one country with no players that have sub-continental roots. That has been broken and Australian cricket has finally grown up ! All this reaction that is you are seeing is largely motivated by that.

  • satanswish on January 4, 2011, 2:58 GMT

    Khawaja looked very promising in during his stay on the wicket yesterday. This youngster need to be given opportunity he deserves. Ricky must retire IMMEDIATELY.

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