The Investec Ashes 2013 June 23, 2013

Khawaja creeps closer to Test recall


Even if recent scores of 51, eight, a duck, 29 not out and six for Australia A do not suggest it, Usman Khawaja is slipping closer to a Test match recall in the Ashes series, more than 18 months after his last appearance.

The misadventures of others are helping. David Warner is pondering his behaviour and also a possible move down the order. Shane Watson is searching himself for a way to score runs again. Phillip Hughes is trying to repair confidence battered first in India and again during the Champions Trophy. And Michael Clarke just wants his back to stay supple.

All the while Khawaja's standing as the longtime reserve and sound preparation with Australia A is edging him closer to the XI, his inclusion to arrive perhaps as early as the first Test of the series at Trent Bridge. Of the selected Ashes batsmen, only Ed Cowan via Nottinghamshire and Chris Rogers at Middlesex can happily say they are in better touch.

This will be no surprise to those who have seen Khawaja at his best, whether it was standing up memorably to Dale Steyn in Johannesburg in November 2011, or sculpting a Sheffield Shield century of rare quality for Queensland on a Bellerive pitch that looked more likely to be a tennis court last summer. But it will represent a triumph of sorts for Khawaja, who has battled issues of perception, scheduling and punitive team justice since his last Test, against New Zealand in Hobart.

"I'm extremely hungry," Khawaja said. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it before. Every time you go out and play for any team you want to strive to do your best and obviously playing for Australia is the pinnacle for anyone. But in saying that, there's a lot of time between now and the start of the first Test. I've got to keep my head down and go out there and score as many runs as I can because ultimately that's what it's all about for me."

Khawaja's return is not entirely certain, and he will require a substantial score or two in the warm-up matches to come against Somerset and Worcestershire to bolster his case. But there was useful evidence that he is batting neatly against Gloucestershire, as a first innings start was curtailed by Australia A's declaration, then a solid occupation in tougher second innings climes cut short by a direct-hit from the outfield and a tight run-out call by the umpire.

"Runs never hurt, time in the middle doesn't hurt at all; getting a hundred, getting 200 always helps," Khawaja said of his recent scores. "But when you get back out every time you start a new innings it's a different game, it's got nothing to do with what you scored the day before, the game before, you've got to start afresh. Like any other batsman time in the middle is invaluable but in saying that, I think you've got to take every game as it comes and I'm pretty confident the way I'm hitting them right now and pretty confident a few runs are around the corner."

That confidence has been derived at least partly by the presence of the Queensland coach Darren Lehmann as an assistant on the tour. Lehmann rated Khawaja's ability even before he encouraged a move to Brisbane at the start of last summer, and his combination of old school toughness, simplicity and a healthy dose of fun have helped balance the left-hander's desire to achieve.

"He's been awesome, he's my coach in Queensland, I get along with him very well," Khawaja said. "I love the way he goes about his business, he's tough but he's always having fun. One of the best things about him is he's got a really good cricket brain, and you just can't buy that. He's had so much experience, he's played 300-400 first-class games, and the way he talks about cricket he simplifies things. I think he's got a lot to offer Australian cricket in years to come."

Questions of Khawaja's drive had been raised in the past, and were given fresh impetus when he was among four players suspended for failing to follow team instructions on the India tour. The episode was a shock to Khawaja, who said such punishments had seldom come his way anywhere, let alone in cricket, but he soon resolved to use the experience as a spur.

"I'd never got in trouble much during high school, let alone university. Never failed a course at uni, so it was a bit weird for me," Khawaja said. "It was tough but I knew the sooner I got over it, the sooner I could get on with it. What had been done had been done, being part of Australia is what everyone wants to do and playing Test match cricket is what everyone wants to do. I'd give my left arm to play cricket."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 24, 2013, 18:16 GMT

    Well perhaps Dan Brettig got some early mail on Arthur being replaced by Lehmann, which in turn changes the possibility of Ussie playing into a probability!

    @David O'Brien, I don't really see Katich coming in unless the Aussie squad gets hit with bird flu or something! Pretty clear that Rogers and Haddin have been the ones called up to provide an aged warrior dimension to the team.

  • Satish on June 24, 2013, 17:40 GMT

    Give his left arm??? Isn't that his good arm? Any way so happy I'm that Lehmann is the new coach of OZ cricket!Surely he will make his ace bulls player score big runs again,even at international level,its a win win for Usman!

  • mijanur on June 24, 2013, 10:14 GMT

    I think usman should be selected ahead of warner or hughes or wade or watson. Bt i think he not given any chanches in the upcoming eng tour. Bocz of oz's thinktank policy.

  • Allan on June 24, 2013, 1:07 GMT

    Brettig rightly points out to his century in Hobart, where he got 138 on a green wicket and Tasmania got 90 and 130 in both innings. And he did it against Bird, Faulkner, Butterworth so no easy achievement, he is good at playing on difficult decks and we need that in England, our batting attack needs this kid.

  • Dummy4 on June 24, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    Cowan and Rodgers at the top does have an air of authority about it. Not sure Cowan's tediously long 30's and 40's really have cemented him. Does Michael Clarke return at 3? What was the point of elevating him to first drop if he just was going to change his mind after one match?

    There's at least three spots wide open there, and nobody beating down the door. Steve Smith somehow seems a likely test starter, and I'm hearing Simon Katich's name more and more.

    Remember Katich was dropped so they could settle the opening batsmen for these very tests, and we still don't know who to open with.

  • Sriraj on June 23, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    @Dylan Young: I know everyone has their favorite players...but really any fan wishing to see some player fail? Boy, that's one miserable life!

    Khawaja had an unlucky last game as well - a hasty 1st innings declaration and then given run out in the 2nd innings when replays show he made it past the stumps already. I'm not surprised since most of his career has been unlucky. I would expect the 'management' to stick to their favorite Davy baby wherever he bats.

  • Pete on June 23, 2013, 16:06 GMT

    At his best he's a bit like the few hundred frames of Victor Trumper batting; beautiful. Don't know how many frames ended up on the cutting room floor, though. His problems are with concentration when it matters; a good sports psych should have been able to sort him out by now.

  • Tim on June 23, 2013, 15:22 GMT

    Khawaja has to play ahead of Hughes, although I wouldn't mind if they dropped Warner and played both of them. Rogers must be a certain starter, along with Cowan and Clarke if fit. Watson will probably get in due to his bowling and English experience.

  • Ian on June 23, 2013, 14:34 GMT

    I think it's ridiculous that he hasn't played a lot more. He performed well against SA and then got dropped amid whispers from the management of not being a team player or something similar. Well, we all know what it means to be a "team player" now, don't we - out with the boys drinking and getting into stupid situations. We hear Clarke saying that Warner is a potential leader, Arthur always talking about Davy this and Davy that like they're old friends. Pity the performances are going downhill at a great rate. This guy is one of the few who has anything like a decent technique. Give him a solid go. If he isn't always out drinking with the boys, so much the better. When you're facing Steyn or Anderson, your mates can't help you.

  • Mashuq on June 23, 2013, 13:37 GMT

    Good reflections on the conundrum of the batting order @sifter132 on (June 23, 2013, 4:11 GMT). I think Dan expects Warner to return as a middle order bat, say, for the third test. However, it is more likely that someone is dropped by the time Warner gets some actual match batting practice at Hove. Given their lack of technique against spin in India Hughes and Warner are not middle order material. Watson being a right hander needs to bat higher up the order to break up the lefties. Rogers will be needed at the top because quite frankly Hughes and Watson don't inspire much confidence anyway. Probably best to try Hughes as an opener with Cowan and let that door revolve so that Warner or Watson can replace them if necessary. Clarke and Khawaja can bat 5/6. which may enable Clarke to get some rest between innings (lol). Starting line-up might then read: Hughes, Cowan, Watson, Rogers, Clarke, Khawaja with Warner to replace least successful bat for Old Trafford.