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DEEP POINT: Khawaja reaches total control of his game, Harris can return, Green’s a freak

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Expert
13th January, 2022
20
1639 Reads

Usman Khawaja is in total control of his game, he’s reached a point in his career where he knows how to build an innings from start to finish like some of the modern-day greats.

He’s 35 but he’s at the peak of his powers and moving up to opener for the fifth Ashes Test won’t be a problem. The best way to prepare for a shift like that is two score centuries in each innings of the previous game.

Khawaja’s been in top form for a while in Sheffield Shield cricket, in the BBL he’s been awesome for the Sydney Thunder; so it wasn’t a surprise to see him play so well when he was recalled for the fourth Test at the SCG.

He’s batting like he has nothing to prove but also like he’s enjoying every ball like it’s a gift. When batters reach that mindset, the good ones, they just bat and bat and bat.

They’re extremely satisfied with what they can do but also that they can negotiate the next ball with such self belief, it’s a good phase to be in.

Guys like Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis, what was really interesting about them was at the end of their careers all their hundreds were constructed the same.

They became so good at putting together an innings that each Test looked like the same innings – the only way you knew you were watching a different match was that the ground or the opposition had changed.

Khawaja is now at that point of being really comfortable about how to put together each knock, whether it’s a fast one, a long one or whether it’s a difficult situation.

It was almost like when he came out to bat in both those Sydney innings against England that whatever pressure he was feeling was coming through the blade beautifully.

He was quoted as saying he hadn’t even taken in the first hundred yet, let alone the second, and that must be a great feeling because it means it’s not result orientated, it’s process orientated.

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His reaction to his hundreds suggests he was completely in the moment and that comes from experience among older players.

In both innings, process met intensity met calmness met technique met absolutely self belief.

It can happen early in your career but you might spend five or more years trying to replicate that form. A lot of them never reach those dizzy heights again.

Chris Rogers is a late bloomer that had a few years at a similar age where he played the best cricket of his career as an opener, Mike Hussey was the best of them in that he didn’t play a Test until he was 30 but once he got there he looked like he could have played forever.

They were not fighting their games – they were in total unison with their thought patterns and their techniques and I see that now in Uzzy.

I don’t buy into the notion that he’s underperformed in his career. He averages 40-plus. It’s probably just taken him a little bit longer to get to where he is.

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There’s a potential there to really enjoy the next few years. He will have fun at Hobart and he can have a lot of success in the upcoming tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

I don’t think he’s ever had a technical problem on the subcontinent, he’s come up against some really good bowling.

From what I’ve seen over a long time with Usman is he plays spin really well so I wouldn’t put a limit on what he can do now. It would be no surprise if he’s not Australia’s most successful player over there.

The selectors have been really good giving Marcus Harris a chance in four Tests to cement a spot and he hasn’t done that, so it was the right call for him to be left out for Khawaja.

It’s a tough gig opening the batting and he’s come up against some quality quicks in Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes.

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There is an area around off stump where he needs to improve as far as which balls to leave and which ones to attack.

He’s scored mountains of runs in Shield cricket with Victoria and now that he’s out of that wash cycle, he can look at things he can change to get better.

There were some calls questioning Cameron Green’s spot in the side before his 74 in the second innings but this kid is special. We have to treat him differently to anyone else because he’s such a natural freak.

You’ve got a big, powerful athlete with long levers, they’re taking over world sport.

He is in the mode of Kallis and Imran Khan when it comes to all-rounders, in a different stratosphere.

His batting technique was picked apart a little bit, trying to be too precise.

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Don’t always try and be a surgeon, be a butcher. That first cut from a butcher is pretty accurate, it’s strong, it’s deep and powerful.

I think sometimes when people try to be too precise and slow everything down, they lose a bit of power and control. Outside off stump he was trying to push to the middle of the bat rather than trusting his instincts and being strong with his shots. That second innings will set him up for the future.

His bowling has been world class. It’s scary to see such a young guy of 22 who can bat at No.6 but also be so good with the ball. He’s up near two metres tall but he can make the ball talk and also has excellent athleticism in the gully.

Even though he’s underachieved with the bat a bit, I’ve been nothing but impressed with Green.

It was good also to see Jonny Bairstow shine for England. He put the pressure back on the Australian bowlers, counterattacking in both innings – batting time but also putting away the loose ball.

The fact that he can play white-ball cricket so well should mean that he can transfer those skills to the Test arena.

There has been a lot of outdated talk from commentators that we’re not paying enough respect to red-ball cricket with the way tours are set up these days.

The best players in the world are playing white-ball cricket because that’s where they make their money – the IPL rivals the NFL in terms of money generated so you can’t blame players for putting a high priority on T20 cricket.

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Gone are the days of pre-season tours where you play two or three first-class matches before a Test series.

The way that Bairstow and Ben Stokes were able to take on Nathan Lyon and put the pressure back on him comes from their experience in white-ball cricket. In county cricket you’re going to face most bowlers operating at around 130km/h but in the T20 leagues you will come up against guys bowling serious heat and that can be a better preparation for when you play Tests against Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

Sam Billings looks like he’s going to play in this Test in Hobart after being brought into the squad following a stint in the BBL with the Thunder and to me that looks like a pretty good preparation. Being able to negotiate a white ball at top pace or from quality spin, that will help make him ready to go for this game.

The programs are never going to go backwards to play less white-ball cricket because the players won’t want that because it will cost them money.

The good players are going to perform regardless of the preparation they’ve had. A fair few of the Australian team played in the T20 World Cup coming into the Ashes but they’ve still done well.

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