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Match Analysis

Usman Khawaja masters pulaofests and dustbowls to leave Sri Lanka on the ropes

Australia's batters have acquired some serious competence on subcontinent pitches

Usman Khawaja and Cameron Green shared a crucial 57-run stand  •  Getty Images

Usman Khawaja and Cameron Green shared a crucial 57-run stand  •  Getty Images

The last time Usman Khawaja played a Test in Galle, he opened his second innings by shouldering arms to offspinner Dilruwan Perera. The ball skipped gleefully into that unguarded off stump, like an inmate who couldn't quite believe the jailors had left the prison gates wide open.
Earlier that same day, Khawaja had been out for 11, bowled, by Perera of course, and by a straight one of course - the premiere punchline in a series that drew its comedy from Australia failing to contend with balls that did not actually turn.
But this Khawaja ain't that Khawaja. And this series ain't that series. Khawaja is a batter of the world now. This year, he's made 97 in the pulaofest of Rawalpindi, 160 and 44* in the biryani hotbed that is Karachi, and 91 and 104* in Lahore, those stately stone buildings in the distance. He's done it elsewhere in Asia, where the ball turns a bit, and the pitches wear quicker than they might at home. But can he do it on a pitch that's a dust festival from day one in Galle?
Turns out he can.
Khawaja's was not a flawless innings. Unless you possess preternatural skill, there are no such innings on pitches like this. He was beaten, repeatedly. Late on day one, when he was in the thirties, he came down the track and missed a ball that leapt into the keeper's helmet - a tough missed stumping, but a missed stumping nevertheless.
And yet the sweeps kept coming, two big slogs reaping boundaries, the delicate paddles earning runs behind square. The reverse sweeps were on display too, at least one of his fours coming from that shot. Waltzing down the track and driving past mid-on. Hanging back, reading it early, cutting past point. On defence, he committed to covering the balls that might hit the stumps. And when the balls that gripped whizzed past his edge, he shook it off. Balls that hit nothing can't get you out. He found a way to survive. And he found ways to score.
He wasn't the only one. In fact, he wasn't even the most effective batter in Australia's first innings. Cameron Green, upon first sight, does not appear the most suited of Australia's line-up to fast-turning surfaces. He's so tall, he almost needs air traffic control clearance to descend far enough to play a sweep. It is a shot he played occasionally, but judiciously, but where he thrived instead, was by running at Sri Lanka's spinners, frequently clipping offspinner Ramesh Mendis with the turn to the legside.
When he stayed in the crease, he ensured he parked his big front pad, giant stride and all, down the track, so that balls that were headed to the stumps hit him outside the line, and balls that hit him in line, were probably going to turn too far to threaten the stumps. This was not a strategy available to a batter of Khawaja's height. This was Green finding his own ways to survive; his own ways to score.
There was also Alex Carey, whose innings seemed to consist almost entirely of sweeps and reverse sweeps, with zero runs coming down the ground. He made 45 off 47. Green top-scored with 77 off 109. Their sixth-wicket partnership of 83 was the backbone of Australia's advance on day two, which they finished 101 runs ahead, with two wickets in hand.
"The way we play the game and how we talk about the game has changed a lot since I started playing for the Australian cricket team," Khawaja said at the end of day two. "We've learned from our mistakes, and guys are all trusting their plans and are able to adapt to different situations, and that's different from the way we do it in Australia.
"Guys like Carey come in and sweep. Even me, growing up in Australia, every second coach would tell me not to sweep. But it's a very natural shot, and Carey exploits it as much as anyone."
All this has been helped by an inexperienced Sri Lanka spin attack, who have been too easy to hit off their lengths, who have been unable to deliver a single maiden between them (seamer Asitha Fernando has bowled the only maiden of the innings), largely because they frequently get the line wrong.
But having looked like they were more likely to vomit on this Galle pitch than play a good innings on it the last time they were here, Australia have acquired some serious competence on these surfaces. Commit to a batting plan. Don't worry about the balls that get the better of you. Find your own way to score. On Thursday, all that saw them take control of a tough Test.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf