Match Analysis

Usman Khawaja begins another new year with a hundred at the SCG

The Australia batter has begun 2023 by making his highest Test score

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
05-Jan-2023
Usman Khawaja celebrates another century at the SCG  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Usman Khawaja celebrates another century at the SCG  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Until today, Usman Khawaja had been the one member of Australia's top five to not make a century this season. It should probably come as no surprise that he put the record straight at the SCG.
It was on this ground, a year ago to the day, that Khawaja returned to Test cricket against England, largely by accident when Travis Head was ruled out with Covid. It remains one of the great 'what ifs' of this current team if that opportunity hadn't presented itself.
Khawaja would memorably go on and make twin hundreds in that match which meant he was undroppable. He ended 2022 with 1080 runs at 67.50, and that even included a lean finish in the first two Tests against South Africa. Now he has started 2023 in style. He has been one of cricket's great comeback stories of recent times.
When Khawaja completed the second run in the 76th over he became just the fourth batter to make three consecutive hundreds at the SCG after Wally Hammond, Doug Walters and VVS Laxman. By the end of the day, when he sat unbeaten on 195 with rain scudding across again, he was averaging 130.83 at the venue, almost double his next best where he has played more than a single Test.
"When I played him here in 2016 and then again in South Africa in 2018, you can see he plays all around the wicket, he trusts his defence really well and he knows his scoring opportunities. He's got really good hands. He's worked really hard and he's a different player to what he was four years ago against spin"
Keshav Maharaj on Usman Khawaja
There is a lot of talk about how long this Australian Test team will stay together with a thought that the potentially era-defining seven months which lie ahead could be the last time for this group. Khawaja turned 36 a few weeks ago, the same age as his opening partner and good friend David Warner, leading to questions about the transition.
"We're going to enjoy the next 12 months, enjoy it as much as we can," Warner told Fox Cricket during the opening day's play. "For us it's about not leaving this team with a big hole. I know through those five-year transition period when a lot of the greats left, they're big holes to fill with the amount of games you play.
"We always talk about games played and how much that means into a team's performance and perspective with experience. You can't fill that void."
Whether Warner's MCG double-century has re-energised his Test career to last beyond the overseas tours of India and England remains to be seen - he was coy last week on potentially playing Boxing Day again and has previously hinted Tests will be the first to go - but as a single-format player there would appear no reason, if the hunger remains, that Khawaja could not push towards 40.
"At the moment he's at the top of his game, he's scoring runs at will and batting beautifully so at the moment think he's pretty comfortable and playing really nicely," Steven Smith said. "Guess him, like Davey, they can play for as long as they like and hang them up when they want."
The West Indies series had been a curious one for Khawaja. Twice he reached the 60s and looked set for more only to fall to medium-pacers - Kyle Mayers in Perth and Devon Thomas, who was really the reserve wicketkeeper, in Adelaide. Against South Africa, Khawaja was squared up by a peach from Anrich Nortje in the first innings at the Gabba before carving to point in the small chase. Then at the MCG he nibbled outside off against Kagiso Rabada before watching much of the rest of batting take apart South Africa's attack. But Khawaja has found a way to remain very level-headed about the vagaries of the sport.
This innings Khawaja was back in control. He was given lbw reverse sweeping against Simon Harmer on 25 but the DRS showed glove. The offspinner caused a few more uneasy moments on a pitch offering occasional assistance, but Khawaja was largely serene.
Facing Harmer and Keshav Maharaj, there were plenty of the elements to Khawaja's batting that had been on display in Pakistan, where he made 496 runs in three Tests. He had a strike-rate of 87.30 against the struggling Maharaj, who sensed a different player than the one he last came up against in 2018.
"He's obviously come back and really worked hard," Maharaj said. "When I played him here in 2016 and then again in South Africa in 2018, you can see he plays all around the wicket, he trusts his defence really well and he knows his scoring opportunities. He's got really good hands. He's worked really hard and he's a different player to what he was four years ago against spin."
Smith, who shared a 209-run stand with Khawaja, sees a player completely at ease with his game.
"Think he's just really comfortable the way he's playing," he said. "He's got scoring options all around, if you set a field a certain way he can play a certain way to get a boundary and force you to put someone there, then play another way and force you to put someone there.
"He's got the horizontal bat shots against spin which are really effective, he hasn't played the reverse as much as I thought he would have today, but probably didn't need to because of the lack of spin."
Khawaja has started 2023 as he started last year. Whether he can continue and replicate the type of returns he had over the preceding 12 months may well have a significant bearing over the success the Test side enjoys.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo