I’ve checked my article history and it seems that it is time for my annual piece calling for everyone to get their hands off it regarding Usman Khawaja.
The talk of dropping Khawaja for the India tour is frankly ridiculous. It is indicative of a national cricketing discourse that has given up reason and sense for Twitter-esque instant gratification rather than the time and discipline required to build sustainable success.
Let’s start here.
Australia is not going to win in India. This is not up for debate or even in question.
Playing India in India is the toughest assignment in world cricket. We’ve only won once in my lifetime and have to go back to the 1960s for the series win before that.
This Australian side might jag a Test win, but expecting them to topple the world’s no.1 side over the course of a series in their own backyard is like expecting India’s batsmen to land in Australia and dominate a pace line-up comprised Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins.
It just isn’t going to happen.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravinda Jadeja on their home turf are as deadly a force as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were on theirs. In the last two home series (against England and New Zealand) Ashwin took 55 wickets at 24 striking every 50 balls while Jadeja backed him up with 40 wickets at 25, striking every 65 balls.
That is 62 per cent of the wickets to fall across eight Test matches. The last time Australia toured India, Ashwin took 29 wickets at 20 (striking every 50 balls) while Jadeja took 24 wickets at 17 (striking every 48 balls) for a total of 67 per cent of the wickets that fell over four Tests.
These guys are destroyers who know just what to do on the pitches they have grown up playing on.
Australia are going to lose. What the team needs to be doing is looking to improve on their last tour and ensuring that our best batting line-up of Matt Renshaw, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb gets as much experience as possible in unfamiliar conditions while on the tour.
After the Indian series there is no more Test cricket until the summer Ashes at home (unless the Bangladesh tour re-emerges), the selectors need to leave this top five alone to bed down because it has the makings of something very special.
Khawaja himself seems to be the focus of much of the discussion from fans, armchair selectors and so-called experts at the moment. Khawaja is currently the no.11 ranked Test batsman in world cricket. He is the third best of Australia’s batsmen.
Adaptable and capable across all formats, Warner, Khawaja and Smith are the foundation of the batting line-up and should be listed at 2-3-4 in Tests, and at 1-2-3 in ODIs and T20s for the foreseeable future.
Since returning from his knee reconstruction approximately 18 months ago, Khawaja’s scoring has been comfortably keeping pace with the best batsmen in the world.
A Cricket Archive search starting in season 2015 reveals the following across all formats:
SPD Smith 100 matches for 5645 runs @ 55.90
DA Warner 99 matches for 5801 runs @ 50.88
V Kohli 93 matches for 5011 runs @ 60.37
JE Root 80 matches for 4948 runs @ 52.08
UT Khawaja 64 matches for 3613 runs @ 50.89
While I certainly see merit in the selection of Shaun Marsh as the extra batsman in the squad (56 matches for 2899 runs @ 45.29) in these figures, I see none in the dropping of Usman Khawaja from the side.
Much of the commentary centres around Khawaja’s troubles with spin when playing outside Australia. Make no mistake, Khawaja has little trouble with spinners of any stripe playing on conditions he is familiar with in Australia.
It is an amusing aside (bordering on cognitive dissonance) that everyone just accepts that Handscomb “looks comfortable” against spin in Australia and that it will therefore translate to success India, yet remains convinced the same is not applicable to Khawaja.
Cite the Sri Lankan series as evidence of his struggles by all means, however acknowledge that you’re talking about four innings being all the grace one of our best batsmen is being given.
Streaks of four single-digit scores have been weathered by both Smith and Warner in recent times without the axe falling. Rather famously a streak of four ducks in a row was posted in Sri Lanka by Mark Waugh without him being dropped from the national side.
I don’t claim that Khawaja is going to become a dominant batsman on the subcontinent, I do think he has improved since he made his international debut and will continue to improve if he is taken on overseas tours and allowed to play rather than put under pressure for his spot immediately then dropped every time he has a very brief lean period.
Fans, armchair selectors, and so-called ‘experts’ need to extend the full four Test matches of faith and patience to Usman Khawaja and the entire top five batting order because there really aren’t any better players in Australia that aren’t already in the Test side.
Unfortunately Khawaja has been the national selection panel’s scapegoat since his debut and it seems unlikely to change.