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Usman Khawaja no stranger to centuries with added meaning

"It's nice to go out and show everyone the last 10 years haven't been a fluke"

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
17-Jun-2023
Some centuries mean a bit more than others. But a few of Usman Khawaja's since his triumphant return to the Test side have had added significance.
Firstly, there was the comeback itself at Sydney in the last Ashes, an opportunity he thought may never come around. Then, having long carried a tag of being unable to play spin, which should really have been shed when he saved the game in Abu Dhabi in 2018, he dominated in Pakistan on a hugely significant homecoming tour. Then he followed that with a century against India in Ahmedabad a few months ago.
And now Edgbaston in 2023, ten years on from his first Test tour of the country which had brought his only other fifty. Despite a prolific return to the side, his average in England - 17.78 before this match after two low scores in the World Test Championship final last week - had not gone unnoticed.
When he late cut Ben Stokes down to deep third to bring up a 15th Test hundred the celebration showed what it meant. Never mind the dab or the LeBron James inspired dance, this was something more guttural as he let out a roar and hurled his bat in the air, leaving him standing with arms aloft holding his helmet.
"I honestly don't know," Khawaja, with daughter Aisha on his knee at the press conference, said of what prompted the celebration. "Think it was a combination of three Ashes tours in England, being dropped in two of them. I don't read the media, genuinely I don't, but I'm getting sprayed by the crowd as I'm walking out there today and as I'm going to the nets that I can't score runs in England, so guess it was more emotional than normal.
"Feel like I'm saying this all the time, same thing happened in India. Not that I have a point to prove, but it's nice to go out and score runs for Australia just to show everyone that the last 10 years haven't been a fluke."
The theme from Khawaja over the last few years has been how comfortable he now is being himself. "It's just what you see is what you get, this is Usman," he said. "I don't try to hide it. I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, but I'm happy to be out there and show everyone the real me. Don't know why the bat throw happened, but it happened. That was me."
As Khawaja said, his previous Ashes history in England had not been a happy one. A top score of 54 in the first of six previous meetings in 2013. He was dropped for the final match of that series at The Oval. He did not make the 2015 tour during a near two-year absence from the Test side, then in 2019 he was the fall guy to accommodate Marnus Labuschagne on Steven Smith's return from concussion at Old Trafford. This time he had come prepared.
"England is, in my opinion, the toughest place in the world to bat for top-three batsmen," Khawaja said before the tour. "If I've learned anything, it is work hard, train hard and [when] going to England, go with low expectations. You are going to fail as a batsman, but when you do score you try to cash in as much as you can."
Cash in he did. And how Australia needed him. Khawaja had watched from the other end as David Warner dragged on against his arch nemesis Stuart Broad. He watched as Labuschagne edged behind for the first golden duck of his Test career. He watched as Smith was given lbw to Stokes to leave Australia three down before lunch.
With some help from Travis Head, Cameron Green and latterly Alex Carey, he has been the key difference between Australia having a chance to stay level with England on first innings and conceding a likely match-defining lead.
The century was in a mould of the previous six he had made on his return to Test cricket, with an almost zen-like calmness. Led by Broad, England were very good with the new ball early in the day. Khawaja was beaten on occasions but never ruffled although there was not the amount of seam or swing that has previously troubled him.
While runs have flowed at home, he has equally left his mark overseas. Since January 2022, Khawaja has scored more than 1000 runs outside Australia. No batter has scored more runs in away Tests with the next most prolific batter in away Tests in this period being Joe Root, who has 802 runs in an equal 19 innings.
It appeared that the second new ball had finally done for him on 112 when Broad, from around the wicket, a line that has not troubled Khawaja the same as it has Warner, brought a terrific delivery back into off stump only for his foot to have been inches over the line.
His play against Moeen Ali brought back memories of how he had dominated Pakistan's spinners last year on some docile surfaces. Watchfully respecting the good balls, but quick to apply some pressure (not that Stokes sees his bowlers being hit for boundaries that way) with sweet, crisp footwork. He rarely misjudges length against the spin.
"England, to their credit, they stuck to their guns, kept the field up and eventually got the wicket of Heady by just keeping the guys up," Khawaja said. "It was good cat and mouse."
The comparison between Khawaja and his opening partner is hard to ignore. While Warner battles to get the ending he wants in Sydney early next year, Khawaja is mapping out the most glorious final coming to an international career littered with ups and downs. And though this is likely a final tour of England - "unless I pull a James Anderson," he said - that finishing point may be some time off yet.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo