White ball could be the red-ball making of Usman Khawaja
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Usman Khawaja (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
It all started from a simple reply to a comment. One of you insightful Roarers out there mentioned earlier this week that you weren’t completely sold on the idea of using one-day and Twenty20 cricket as a build-up to a Test series.
My reply was something along the lines of, “I agree, but I’m very glad that that’s what they’ve done with Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja.”
And I meant it. Hughes is still finding his feet again in the Australian set-up, and Khawaja’s inclusion in the Aussie one-day side will be his only chance to re-accustom himself to the national team ahead of an expected and deserved recall for the upcoming four-Test series in India.
Both Hughes and Khawaja will make their ODI debuts in Melbourne today.
All these comments were made before the penny dropped for me while watching Khawaja bat on Wednesday night in the Big Bash League.
As I watched Khawaja batting with Sydney Thunder teammate Chris Gayle, it was unsurprisingly obvious how different their methods to reeling in the Melbourne Stars’ score were.
Gayle is well known for his complete lack of subtlety, of course, and he often sees no point in taking an easy single when there’s a fence to be cleared. He lives by the long-handled sword, and up until his 65 at the MCG, he’d been dying by the sword all tournament. Up until Wednesday night, Brad Haddin rather had a point.
Khawaja, for the 4.4 overs that he and the Windies master blaster batted together, just went about his business compiling a score without the dramatics or the sledgehammer approach. Khawaja did clear the mid-wicket fence at one point with a superbly well-timed pull shot, but like he did throughout the BBL this summer, he made his runs with proper, orthodox cricket shots.
And it was here the penny dropped. His white-ball form could just be the red-ball making of Khawaja in the Australian team once again.
After a pretty ordinary season for New South Wales last season, Khawaja made the well-publicised move to Queensland. Numerous reasons have been suggested for his relocation, including the notion that he saw no avenue for improvement in the existing NSW set-up (which is now under complete review, following the mid-season sacking of coach Anthony Stuart), and a desire to re-energise his game under the tutelage of Bulls coach Darren Lehmann.
That move, now, looks likely to result in a reintroduction to his six-Test-old Baggy Green.
Khawaja’s season started beautifully, with a well-made 88 in Queensland’s first Shield game of the season. He followed that with two more Shield fifties and his first Shield century for the Bulls on a rough Bellerive deck in Hobart, as well as another fifty for the Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI he was captaining against Sri Lanka in Canberra.
However, what was really interesting among all this was his sudden effectiveness in the Ryobi Cup one-dayers. Where Khawaja was little more than a bit-part player in the limited overs games for NSW, he’s played in all five of Queensland’s white-ball outings this year and has three fifties to his name, all at a decent clip.
We often lament that the days of the 1000-run season might be behind us, but as of the other night, Khawaja currently sits with 957 runs to his name across Shield, Ryobi Cup, the BBL, and the Chairman’s XI tour match.
He’s topping the runs tally for Queensland in both competitions, and was the standout Thunder batsman by the length of a Chris Gayle six. His strike rates have lifted across the board compared to both his career figures and his last season for NSW.
With the possible exception of Bulls teammate Peter Forrest last season, Khawaja might just be Queensland’s best-performed New South Wales import since Greg Inglis.
This form has unsurprisingly flowed into his Big Bash form, too, where from the couch it appears as though he’s enjoying his time in the middle with Gayle particularly, however short-lived it’s been.
What’s been most impressive has been that Khawaja has just gone out there and batted. He’s ignored the garish uniforms, the DJs, the fireworks, and just batted. He’s turned the strike over well, put away the bad balls, and yes, even cleared the rope when the opportunity has presented.
You might imagine that Lehmann’s message is as simple as “Just go out there and bat”, and Khawaja is doing just that and more.
Today, he has the chance to show his wares on the national stage again, in what will be a massive opportunity ahead of the Indian series. As he’s done all season so far, he just needs to forget about the colour of his clothes, and the colour of the ball, and just bat.
The ability to turn over the strike is vitally important in limited-overs cricket, but so will it be crucial in building partnerships in India. One the reasons Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey were so successful a batting partnership was the relative ease with which they changed the strike over.
Khawaja’s done that well in the BBL, and he’s well equipped to do the same in the one-dayers, and in India, too.
Khawaja is a decent player of spin, has shown he’s not scared of leaving his crease, and again, importantly for the subcontinent, has the soft hands to cater for late surprises.
His time has arrived, again. This time he can make it for good.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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