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'I find that a bit odd': Candid Khawaja discusses Langer relationship, Head battle for Ashes berth

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17th November, 2021
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If Usman Khawaja earns a recall for the first Test at the Gabba next month, the veteran batter will approach the Ashes just as he would grade cricket.

For Khawaja, the 34-year-old who was named in Australia’s 15-man squad for the first two Tests on Wednesday, the game nowadays is all about enjoyment.

That’s why he isn’t fazed about a supposed shootout with Travis Head to bat at number five at the Gabba and won’t be disappointed if selectors overlook him.

Whether it’s club, state or Test cricket, Khawaja is just happy to play.

“People will probably be like, ‘Oh, yeah, no, he’s talking crap, I don’t believe him’, but it’s true,” the Queensland captain said.

“I’m really just enjoying my cricket – my mindset won’t change. I’m a big believer in fate. Whatever is meant to happen will happen.”

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Khawaja’s most recent Test came on the 2019 Ashes tour. He hasn’t represented Australia in any format since.

But he’s appreciated the time away from the national set-up.

“I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum – I’ve been in the Australian team, I’ve been dropped, I’ve had contracts, I haven’t had contracts,” he said.

“I guess when you’re a bit younger you hold onto those things a little bit more tightly. I was in the Australian team, I had a contract and then the last couple of years I’ve been playing with Queensland and haven’t had a contract with Australia, just been playing state cricket.

“I’ve enjoyed both sides of the fence. For me, it was nice perspective to just come back and life wasn’t too dissimilar for me … I enjoy playing for Australia, but I also enjoyed not playing for Australia.

“I know that’s a weird thing to say, but I love playing for Queensland and I love playing cricket. I’m very lucky to play cricket.”

It was speculated that Khawaja’s axing from the Test and ODI teams was in part due to an assumed rift with coach Justin Langer.

Footage from Amazon’s The Test documentary, which went into the Australia’s inner-sanctum, showed Khawaja giving forthright feedback to Langer.

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However, suggestions of a falling out baffled Khawaja.

“My relationship with JL has always been great,” he said.

“I always find it weird when people are like, ‘Oh, Ussie, this and that, JL hates him’, because it’s probably the furthest from the truth.

“I still talk to him, I text message him, we get along fine. I always find that a bit odd.”

Notably, Khawaja defended Langer’s character in a YouTube video in August when the coach was being criticised for his intensity.

“I felt like people, more so in the media, [were] attacking JL as a person. I know JL as a person is a great bloke, so I think that’s why I did it,” Khawaja said.

“The fact that I was saying that and everyone thought that I probably didn’t get along with him or I hated him or we had arguments, it wasn’t the case at all, it was quite the opposite.

“It was probably a bit stronger that it came from me and that’s probably why I decided to say it. I’ve always been open and honest, I’ve never shied away from the truth.

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“I’ve never shied away from my opinion if I think it’s going to help and I think it’s constructive. JL knows I’ll always be the same, he knows I’ll always say everything to his face, and all my teammates know that too.”

Conceding that Marcus Harris is the “frontline opener” alongside David Warner in the Ashes squad, Khawaja knows his chance could come in the middle order.

But he won’t begrudge Head if he is given the nod instead.

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“I get along with Heady really well, he’s a terrific lad. He’s a great cricketer. If they pick him, he thoroughly deserves it. If they pick me, I’d love the opportunity too,” Khawaja said.

“I’ve got no issue with who they go with at the end of the day … He’s been batting beautifully the last couple of years.

“That’s the thing people forget – both Heady and myself, we had good seasons last year too and then we put numbers on this year too.”

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