Not too long ago, there was no room for Usman Khawaja in Australia's ODI side despite the unavailability of both Steven Smith and David Warner. Now, about two weeks before the bans on Smith and Warner get over, Khawaja has made a strong case for World Cup selection.
He is in his best physical shape. He is unflappable against pace and spin alike. He has been scoring runs for fun in India: 50, 38, 104, 91, 100. His tally of 383 runs in five innings at an average of 76.60 is his best-ever in an ODI series.
From having zero ODI hundreds prior to this tour to peeling off nearly three in three innings, Khawaja has struck such rich form that Shaun Marsh, Australia's best ODI batsman in the past year, can't find a place in the XI.
It has been some turnaround for Khawaja, and you knew it meant so much to him when he emotionally celebrated his hundred that set the scene for Australia sewing up their first ODI series win in India in ten years. Khawaja raised his helmet, pumped his fist animatedly, acknowledged the applause from the dressing room and hugged Peter Handscomb, who has also raised his ODI game to a new plane on this tour.
The shot that brought up the landmark for Khawaja neatly summed up why he has been so successful this series. When left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav fired his stock ball on off - or just a shade outside - Khawaja leant back, allowed the ball to turn, and deftly guided it through extra-cover with soft hands.
"Look, one day at a time. I am not looking too far ahead. No one knows what the next day might bring" USMAN KHAWAJA
He had displayed similar assured technique against legspinner Yasir Shah and offspinners Bilal Asif and Mohammed Hafeez when he had helped Australia pull off a great escape in Dubai last year. He pressed right forward to full, turning balls and smothered them. That threw the bowlers off their lengths and allowed Khawaja to pick off runs off the back foot.
In a game where Australia had to bat out 840 balls (140 overs) to save the Test, Khawaja alone played out 302 balls - the most faced by any batsman in the fourth innings in the UAE.
He was playing a different format in India, but the UAE lessons proved crucial. Khawaja has also been part of two Australia A tours in India previously - first in 2015 and then more recently in 2018.
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In the UAE, after bedding in, Khawaja got on top of the spinners with a variety of sweeps and regular advances down the pitch. He has followed a similar template in India and it was on bright display when the series was on the line in Delhi.
He stepped out against Kuldeep in his first over, reached the pitch of the ball, extended his hands, and launched him over long-on. He then paddled the first ball he faced from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja to long leg. Anything that Jadeja tossed outside off was swept or reverse-swept with great authority.
Jadeja had bowled Australia captain Aaron Finch with a ripper and dismissed Glenn Maxwell with one that stuck in the pitch. He even troubled Handscomb with his arm ball, but here was Khawaja showing him who was the boss: in all, he took 23 off 22 balls from Jadeja.
"Jadeja bowling Finch was a beauty, it gripped and turned," Khawaja said at the post-match press conference. "It was one of those games, when the spinners come into the game, you have to have enough areas to score. We've to respect the good balls too.
"Just being in these conditions a lot lately, myself and a lot of us, we've played in Dubai, India A series and a lot of the guys played IPL too. I think just being around the conditions helps a lot of the guys, guys that have had success in the past to know what they're trying to do, just like the Indians have for a long period here. There have been lot of good players of spin here. Pete has batted beautifully, Maxi has always looked like he's going to get a lot of runs and been free-flowing."
Khawaja's unlikely bumper run has formed the centerpiece of Australia's unexpected series win. It was the first time that Australia bounced back from being 2-0 down to clinch a five-match ODI series.
"It's huge. To win a series in India is huge," Khawaja said. "It's a tough place to come play cricket against a very good side. They beat us in Australia, so to come back from those first couple of games, the losses, to come back and win three in a row to win the series, it's a great feeling.
"From a personal point of view, it's huge as well. Man of the Series in a one-day tournament in India. I wasn't in the ODI side this time last year. So, to be here in India and win the series is massive. It's always a tough place to play cricket, for any Australian to come over. Then you have the conditions, then you have the crowds, so it's really satisfying to come back into the one-day side and contribute. Even more so to get that win, to get that series win because it is not easy out here."
When asked if he has done enough to force his way into World Cup contention, Khawaja downplayed his form and shifted his focus to the upcoming five-match ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE, where Australia are likely to come up against similar slow pitches and spin-heavy attacks.
"Look, one day at a time. I am not looking too far ahead," he said. "No one knows what the next day might bring. We've got five one-dayers in the UAE. Would love to come out on top and win that series and there's a long time between now and the World Cup, so for us as a team, we're just enjoying each other's company, enjoying the wins with each other and hopefully we can do that in UAE in the next tour."
If Khawaja continues to score runs for fun in the UAE too, he could well make Australia's first-choice World Cup XI, with or without Smith and Warner.