I’m hearing some people question Usman Khawaja’s place in the Australian ODI team. This staggers me. Isn’t this the guy who scored more runs than anyone in ODIs in 2019? How could he possibly be anything other than entrenched in Australia’s line-up?
The argument goes that David Warner has come into the Australian one-day side, opening with skipper Aaron Finch. Khawaja was opening prior to that. Steve Smith is now preferred at number three, bumping Khawaja further down the order.
This has left some people questioning Khawaja’s role in the team. For some reason, the general view seems to be that if he does not bat in the top three, he should not be in the team at all.
Some people think ‘power players’ like Marcus Stoinis and Mitch Marsh are better options coming in with 15 or 20 overs left in the innings. Comparing these players’ one-day international batting careers to Khawaja is not straight forward as they have filled different roles.
As a function of Khawaja batting in the top order most of his career, he has the best average but Marsh and Stoinis have superior strike rates.
A better proxy in determining who is best to come in with 15 or 20 overs to go is these players’ T20 records. T20 cricket demands aggression from ball one and is approximately how long a middle order batsman can be expected to bat in a 50-over match.
Khawaja has both players covered in this format from a statistical perspective. He averages around 30 at a strike rate of 130 in nine international matches and in 66 national competitions.
Marsh and Stoinis average nearly the same domestically but at worse strike rates of 120 and 125 respectively. Unlike Khawaja, their records deteriorate meaningfully at international level, averaging around 20 at a strike rate below 120.
If it’s quick runs you are after from a middle order player, Khawaja has Marsh and Stoinis covered, especially against international attacks.
Furthermore, if Australia loses two or three quick wickets in a 50 over match, who would you prefer walking out to get his side back in the match? Khawaja has a Test level technique, and is clearly in form after scoring more runs than anyone in the world this year.
The obvious point some people will make is that, while Marsh and Stoinis bowl, Khawaja does not. My rebuttal is that Stoinis averages 43 with the ball at greater than six an over in ODIs. Marsh averages 35 at 5.5 an over. It’s questionable how much these players are adding with the ball.
Australia is likely better off getting ten overs out of Maxwell, Finch and Smith and bolstering its batting.
Finally, if Australia feels it must have one of Stoinis or Marsh in the side to bowl a few overs, I know who I’d be keeping in the team out of Khawaja and Shaun Marsh.
Shaun Marsh has a very similar ODI record to Khawaja, averaging over 40 at a strike rate above 80. He is also in great one-day form, and makes batting look so easy. He would be in my team ahead of his brother and Stoinis.
Both have near identical one-day international records, averaging above 40 at a strike rate above 80 (in other words, excellent). But if it’s Marsh or Khawaja, Marsh misses out.
As strong Marsh’s form has been in the last 18 months, Khawaja’s form has been stronger in the last six months. Khawaja also has a superior international T20 record, indicating he is better suited to finish an innings than Marsh, albeit with a small sample size.
There is no reason to question Khawaja’s spot in Australia’s middle order. He’s in incredible form, is a better finisher than the other contenders, and has the technique and Test match pedigree to turn a match around if early wickets fall.