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Ashes 2021-22: Content Khawaja ready to bat anywhere for Australia

Calls for Khawaja to open grow louder after a roaring start to the Shield season

Alex Malcolm
09-Nov-2021
Usman Khawaja batted throughout the third day's play, South Australia vs Queensland, Sheffield Shield, Adelaide Oval, October 17, 2021

Usman Khawaja has struck form in the Sheffield Shield  •  Getty Images

Usman Khawaja believes he can bat anywhere in Australia's top-order if he were to get an Ashes call-up but he says a middle-order place would make more sense than opening.
The Queensland captain has started the Sheffield Shield season in exceptional form, with back-to-back centuries, and calls for him to return to the Test side for the first time since the 2019 Ashes series have been growing louder and louder.
Khawaja has another chance to impress selectors at the Gabba on Wednesday when Queensland host Western Australia in a Shield clash, but he is already expected to be named in Australia's extended Ashes squad ahead of the three-day intra-squad trial game scheduled for December 1-3 in Brisbane. The team for the Ashes opener will be selected from there.
There have also been calls for Khawaja to open in the first Test at the Gabba. However, Khawaja himself downplayed that suggestion given he has opened just three times in 29 first-class innings since the 2019 Ashes tour for returns of 30, 4 and 2. His last 14 innings have been played exclusively at No.4 for Queensland.
"If you're talking about me opening, and what not, but I've been batting four for Queensland for the last two years," Khawaja said. "So for me batting, if there's a spot at five it's as likely as opening the batting. It probably makes more sense in some respects. So for me, I think I've talked to selectors about it, I've told them I can bat anywhere along the order."
Khawaja does have an outstanding record opening the batting in Test cricket from a small sample size. He's opened in seven innings across five Test matches in Australia and the UAE, scoring two centuries and two half-centuries at an average of 96.80. One of those centuries was in a pink-ball Test under lights against South Africa in Adelaide in 2016.
He last opened in a Test in Sydney in 2019 before losing his place in the side during the 2019 Ashes after Marnus Labuschagne took his spot at No.3 following three consecutive half-centuries, having come in as Steven Smith's concussion replacement at Lord's.
Khawaja is flattered by the support and well wishes he has received from people who want to see him back in the Test side, but he is content even if he isn't recalled.
"It's just lovely to see all the support I've been getting from, you know, online, social media, just people coming up to me," Khawaja said. "It's nice to see, but for me, honestly, I guess I've been through the grind.
"I played Test cricket. I haven't. I've been playing professional cricket now for 14-odd years. I'm in a really good spot. And I have a lovely family, a beautiful wife, and a beautiful daughter. I'm really enjoying my life at the moment. I've got a lot of things to be grateful for.
"I'd love to play for Australia. If it happens, if it doesn't, honestly, it's not in my thinking because I'm out here trying to score runs for Queensland."
Khawaja couldn't resist the urge to poke fun at some criticism levelled at him by former Australian captain Ian Chappell, who told Channel Nine he didn't think Khawaja was a good enough player at Test level to warrant a recall.
"To me, it's water off a duck's back honestly, as Chappelli will have his opinions," Khawaja said. "I guess you just have to, as a player, just concentrate on things you're good at. I mean Chappelli is not even the best player in his family. So if I'm going to take advice I might take it from his younger brother maybe [laughing], who I get along with very well too, GC [Greg Chappell]. He's a legend."
Khawaja was excited about the announcement that Australia will do a full tour of Pakistan early next year, given Khawaja was born there and recently played in the Pakistan Super League in the UAE.
"It's amazing, fingers crossed everything goes well," Khawaja said. "I know CA is going to send a couple of people over in the not too distant future to just have a view of Pakistan.
"It's massive for Pakistan cricket, something they haven't had for such a long time, a country that absolutely loves cricket. Even though [I was] born in Pakistan, for me, it's just about spreading the beautiful game of cricket."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo