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Marcus Harris deserves this chance at Usman Khawaja's expense

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Expert
3rd September, 2019
45

Usman Khawaja’s Test future is uncertain after he was axed from Australia’s 12-man squad for the fourth Ashes Test.

The 32-year-old batsman paid the price for averaging just 19 from his six Tests in the UK, which is part of an awful record overseas.

In 20 Tests away from home, Khawaja has averaged just 28. The left-hander’s average of 20 in this current Ashes means he has been poor in four of his last five Test series outside of Australia.

The one excellent series he had in that time – against Pakistan in the UAE – gave a sense that perhaps Khawaja had finally worked out how to adapt to alien conditions.

Instead, his performances have returned to the mean.

Not that he’s been alone. Only Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have shone for Australia in this series.

What may well put Khawaja’s career under greater threat is the sensational form of Labuschagne. The 25-year-old Queenslander has been a revelation, demonstrating the ability to withstand enormous pressure and conquer difficult batting conditions.

Those are two things Khawaja has failed to do time and again on the road.

Usman Khawaja

Usman Khawaja trudges off after another cheap dismissal in the Ashes. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP / Getty Images)

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It must be said that Labuschagne has batted just three times – a small sample size. There is a chance the Queenslander is just in a purple patch and he may come slamming back down to the turf over the next two Tests.

On the other hand, if Labuschagne can hold his own at first drop over the remainder of this series, then Khawaja will suddenly find that his most likely avenue back into the side is blocked.

Australia would then want to give Labuschagne a long run in that position to see if they can finally develop a reliable number three. Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Travis Head would likely be locked in at three-four-five.

That could leave Khawaja competing for an opening berth over the next year or two with a stacked field of Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns and the currently-hibernating wunderkind Matt Renshaw.

I argued last week that Khawaja should open at Old Trafford in place of Harris, due to the former’s wonderful Test record as an opener.

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Yet there is also clear justification for the selection of Harris. Just seven Tests into his career, he remains somewhat of a mystery. He certainly hasn’t yet shown he belongs at Test level but the opposite hasn’t been proven either.

Harris looked more comfortable than any other batsman against the new ball last summer as India’s quicks put on a masterclass. His ability to consistently survive that early onslaught was encouraging. His tendency to waste those starts was the issue.

The 27-year-old’s commanding form at Sheffield Shield level over recent seasons warrants him getting a second Test after being recalled at Leeds. There is so much at stake in this series, though, that we could see some unpredictable selections for the fifth Test.

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Were Australia to lose at Old Trafford, with Harris failing twice, it would not shock me to see Khawaja recalled in his place, partnering Warner at the top of the order for the deciding Test.

Should Harris and Labuschagne both be solid, however, it is hard to see how Khawaja would get back into the Test XI for the home series against Pakistan.

Turning 33 years old in December, Khawaja’s Test career is suddenly in peril less than 12 months after his heroics in the UAE.