The Investec Ashes 2013

Khawaja creeps closer to Test recall

Daniel Brettig in Bristol

June 23, 2013

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Usman Khawaja plays a cover drive, Gloucestershire v Australia A, Tour match, Bristol, 1st day, June 21, 2013
Uncertainty within the batting line-up and Khawaja's sound preparations with Australia A are pushing the batsman closer to a place in the Test XI © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by   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.

Posted by Thefakebook 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!

Posted by pomkul 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.

Posted by Paul_Rampley 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by srriaj317 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.

Posted by Batmanian 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.

Posted by Dashgar 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.

Posted by CoverDrive888 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.

Posted by Beertjie 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.

Posted by reddawn1975 on (June 23, 2013, 13:34 GMT)

I think its 100% done deal Khawaja should be in the first team take out Phil Hughes he is really struggling at the international level sadly.Also i think with out a doubt a major mistake was leaving Mitch Johnson out of the side and also Shawn Marsh there world class players and as for the keeping position get rid of Wade his batting is ok his glove work is a disgrace and he is way to mouthy bring in Tim Paine many people have forgotten his form before he injured his finger was excellent Haddin great player but he is not the future of Australian Cricket.

Posted by popcorn on (June 23, 2013, 13:22 GMT)

I am delighted for Usman Khawaja. He has far better technique than the airy fairy David Warner or Phil Hughes who hasn't learnt his basics despite getting Test Recalls after failures against England (Ashes 2009), NewZealand (caught Guptill in the slips bowled Martin - 4 times),and India. We who saw usman Khawaja bat at Number 3 in place of the injured Ricky Ponting in the SCG Test against the Poms will remember his solid defence,and his crisp strokes. But he has been shuttled down the order to Number 6 and asked to prove himself! How do you expect a Top Order batsman to score with the Tail?

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (June 23, 2013, 12:59 GMT)

This article points to me the real fragility with Australia's batting. A bloke has made 1 decent score in 12 months in any form of cricket, and he's on the verge of playing in the first test. We have no batting depth at all to speak of.

Posted by hycIass on (June 23, 2013, 12:44 GMT)

Good article by Brettig. Lehman is a great coach and his influecne on Khawaja's game this season is one of the main reasons why he is back in the Aus set up. After seeing him be 12th man in the Sri Lanka series and India series i can't wait to see him get a real go in the ashes. Hopefully he gets a big score in one of the warm up games to get that spot that he deserves.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2013, 12:42 GMT)

I hope he is selected and not dropped for the whole series just so everyone can eat crow and admit he is not good enough to be playing international cricket.

Posted by HatsforBats on (June 23, 2013, 12:31 GMT)

His ability has never been questioned, it's his perceived work ethic that has raised concerns, and a run out when given the opportunity & responsibility to open the second innings will not have done him any favours. Furthermore he pleads bewilderment regarding his punishment in India, as if never failing a university course absolves him of guilt or responsibility. If he was such a good student, why couldn't he complete a simple homework assignment? He's an Australian representative yet needs punishment to spur himself on to grater efforts? He'll need to score serious runs in the upcoming games to deserve a spot. In conclusion, fire Arthur, hire Boof, and Khawaja sits on the bench until he earns his spot through weight of runs.

Posted by Mary_786 on (June 23, 2013, 12:20 GMT)

@amumtaz agree with you 100%, he deserves to play and is due for success in this series. @Mitty his treatment hasn't been good but i am hopeful for his chances for the ashes. I am also excited to see the likes of Maddinson take his chances in the Aus A games, he is a great talent.

Posted by Edwards_Anderson on (June 23, 2013, 12:14 GMT)

Big fan of Khawaja and i think he will shine for us in the ashes. As for our other issues I would be tempted to open with Rogers in the ashes. Another problem is that Watson bats well as opener too so you could open with these 2 but its a good problem to have. I would definitely get Khawaja in the top 6 as he was one of our best shield and Ryobi batsman till Christmas after which he hasn't played a game. Warner will fire for us in the ashes and he is another who can bat anywhere int he top 6 and he is overdue.Either way its time for Cowan to convert his starts similar to what this man is doing.. Just my two cents.

Posted by KhanMitch on (June 23, 2013, 12:08 GMT)

We all know Clarke is our best batsman, but among the younger players Khawaja is among our best hopes. He got a fighting 50 against Scotland when all others except him and Haddin scored. He handles swing bowling very well which will be key for the ashes. If guys such as him and Cowan can provide support to Clarke then we just may get over the line. It was a shame Smith declared the innings on tea at day 1 as Khawaja on 28 not out could have got some useful batting time.

Posted by on (June 23, 2013, 12:00 GMT)

I don't agree with the suggestion of dropping Warner down the order. He proved that he is clueless against spin many times. He either plays as an opener or not. And for God's sake don't include Ahmed in this Ashes series. This guy might have talent but he needs to be more familiar with the pressure of international cricket before playing in an event like Ashes. I don't understand this selection panel at all. If you were going to take Rogers and Haddin for Ahses why didn't you include them in the original squad of India tour?What about team bonding? If you were going to take 'Big Shaw' Maxi to India why didn't you let him play a test against SL at home? I think they made another mistake by not taking David Hussey. This guy deserves a place more than Hughes, Warner and Watson deserve. Anyway I think the best possible XI at the moment is- Cowan, Rogers,Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Harris, Lyon. However, Hughes got disaster written all over him.

Posted by Teachers on (June 23, 2013, 11:50 GMT)

Khawaja could play in the Ashes, but only by default, which in itself is not such a bad thing, provided this time he seizes his opportunity with both hands. If not for 'homeworkgate' he might have been playing in the test team by now, but that is history. It is not about how good he is to represent Australia at the highest level, it is more of a case of who else is available to play before him. At the moment, not too many are. Hopefully he will get his chance and bring to the position a sense of purposeful batting instead of the unpredictable batting we see from Hughes, Warner and Watson.

Posted by Blokker on (June 23, 2013, 11:10 GMT)

Khawaja's had some bad luck, forgetting to do his homework, and being run out by Ponting when he looked set for a big score, but he's never truly impressed. If he gets another chance he really needs to take it by the scruff.

Posted by Dazako on (June 23, 2013, 10:27 GMT)

"Of the selected Ashes batsmen, only Ed Cowan via Nottinghamshire and Chris Rogers at Middlesex can happily say they are in better touch." This is the scariest statement regarding the ashes I've heard for a while.

@ everyone who keeps pointing out that Cowan has not made a century this year, lets not forget Watson, Hughes, and Warner. Im sure if you look at their averages for the year Cowan still ranks higher, and I think so does Stark and Siddle. My vote goes to Bailey, Voges and Smith in that order, All have FC ave around 40 (not much different to incumbent test players) have better attitude and have been doing it for longer.

Posted by Chris_P on (June 23, 2013, 9:47 GMT)

That he has the talent is not in question. He needed someone like Boof Lehmann to help set him on the right course to handle test cricket. He is one guy, along with Clarke, who can build a big score & look good doing it. His time has come, he has to take the reins & show his undoubted class. His attitude seems to have improved, he is doing the hard yards whereas previously his natural talent had gotten him there.

Posted by Big-Dog on (June 23, 2013, 8:16 GMT)

All this tour has done is confirm that Khawaja is not test material. However, given the dire staites that the NSP have placed Australia's batting with the continued selection of out of form players, a recall can not be discounted.

Posted by ramonster on (June 23, 2013, 7:49 GMT)

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the batting oreder for the first test: Cowan, Watson, Rodgers, Clarke, Khawaja, Hughes, Haddin

Posted by   on (June 23, 2013, 7:30 GMT)

I agree that he is probably edging closer to a call up, but i'd suggest it was only by default. That he got himself run-out from the boundary here is mind boggling, that Smith declared on him in the first innings is also mind boggling. Probably lacked opportunity so far this year but the fact that he hasn't played a single innings of note since the Bellerive knock isn't doing anything to warrant a call up. These guys outside the team need to be making big scores, Rogers being the perfect example, Maddinson may just have usurped Ussie in the last couple of matches as a result of being able to grasp his opportunities. Nic has three FC centuries for the year, Ussie and Cowan not a single one between them.

On the coaching thing, I think I'd like to see Lehmann and Dizzy Gillespie come in and take it on as a team, they are both doing really well at FC level, Gillespie in particular has worked wonders for Adil Rashid, they are people you want to play for, that's where its at!

Posted by amumtaz on (June 23, 2013, 6:42 GMT)

Khawaja is a rare talent in a talent depleted Australian squad. He should be nurtured and not suspended and discarded in favor of some mediocre or downright average performer.

Barring Michael Clarke, none of the new breed of batsmen have any confidence to score a hundred let alone a double in front of a good bowling attack. Khawaja, given a break in Tests could be the next Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Lehman for the country.

Such talent would have automatically made the team for Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand. It's about time, he made it into Australia as well.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (June 23, 2013, 6:16 GMT)

Mitty2 - just one amendment to your suggested lineup - out Cowan and in Watson. Watson has done well as an opener and he can bowl the sort of stuff that could be suited to English conditions.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2013, 5:10 GMT)

I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't picked again. Last time when watson was dropped steve smith was picked instead. Dave Warner is gone Chris Rogers will probably be picked instead. I don't think Phillip Hughes will be dropped. Khawaja will probably be suspended again this time for not writing a book.

Posted by Mitty2 on (June 23, 2013, 5:09 GMT)

Get your sentiment @somethingdifferent, but might want to alter the phrase of "extremely consistent english bowling"...

First off, just the description of Lehmann by Khawaja when compared to Arthur is brilliant... I wonder what more Arthur offers to the coaching job than Lehmann does.

Secondly, it really does show how much of a shambles our batting has come to that a bloke who has one fifty against mediocre bowling attacks in five innings is considered very close to selection. But for all the reasons to dislike and like Khawaja (work ethic v talent), as long as he plays and the prima donna, self-orientated Shane Watson doesn't I'll be happy.

In fact, Khawaja deserves selection purely as an apology for the shocking treatment he has received over the last 18 months - particularly in India. How he didn't get a game when EVERYONE was failing still baffles me.

If we want to win the ashes, the batting line up has to be: Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Warner (yes Warner), Haddin

Posted by somethingdifferent on (June 23, 2013, 3:34 GMT)

With the extremely consistent english bowling line up and fragile aussies middle order ( apart from Clark) Khawaja should definitely play. If he is not selected for the first test then something is surely wrong with the tour selection panel.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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