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Usman Khawaja ready to slay spin demons

by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

Usman Khawaja made his international debut for Australia seven years ago, in 2011, but is still not guaranteed a place in the three formats despite excelling at the domestic level. On this India tour with Australia A, he wants to change that.

Khawaja, now 31, came along as an attractive 24-year-old in January 2011 but lost his place in the team after 10 innings and two years, having not managed a single half-century. After a two-year hiatus, he came back in November 2015, and impressed with four back-to-back centuries, against New Zealand and the West Indies.

However, his ability to score runs in Asia, where he averages 14.62 from nine Test innings, still remains in question. To nail his place in the Australian side, especially in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner for the foreseeable future, Khawaja is trying to make the most of the ongoing quadrangular series in India, which is to be followed by two four-day matches.

Widlermuth (in pic) and Khawaja starred in the last-ball win for Australia A over India B

He found form in the third game he played on the tour with an unbeaten 101 that helped Australia A beat India B to secure a place in the series finale. He was also helped by Jack Wildermuth (62 off 42 balls), who hit a last-ball six to seal the deal for his team.

“There’s nothing worse than scoring a hundred and losing. You always feel like you could have done more,” he said after the match. “[There is] no greater feeling than winning cricket games on the last ball. That’s probably what stood out for me the most.”

That Test average in Asia paints a gloomy picture for Khawaja but as far as the limited-overs matches are concerned, the left-hand batsman has been among the runs and he remembers when and where he scored them. “There might be that perception out there about me in India, but even when I came last series, in the Aussie A series in Chennai, I think I was the highest run-scorer for Australia in the one-dayers,” he said.

Khawaja scored a half-century for Australia on his last Test outing

He must be forgiven for forgetting that Joe Burns had scored two runs more than his 267 at 66.75 with a century and two half-centuries. “I’ve always liked coming over to India and playing cricket here. I enjoy the white-ball stuff too, because there’s a lot of reward for your shots here. It’s a little bit different because there’s a fair bit more spin involved than back home. But that’s always a nice challenge, a bit different.”

To further push his case, especially after having openly expressed his disappointment at not being picked in the limited-overs team for the tour of the UK earlier this year, Khawaja has worked on his fitness and has lost seven kilograms.

Admitting that the extra weight had led to fitness-related issues, he said, “It’s always been a thing for me, my hamstring and stuff after I did my ACL. It’s taken me a good three years to start to feel good again.”

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