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In Australia’s moment of glory - Khawaja dons the spotlight and how!

Last updated on 30 Jul 2023 | 04:50 PM
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In Australia’s moment of glory - Khawaja dons the spotlight and how!

Khawaja's inherent attempt to outdo his past pushes him forward, and that's beautiful in every way

Usman Khawaja's batting is not the most fluid show you'd ever witness. None of his strokes paint a calligraphic undertone, but something about his inherent attempt to outdo his past pushes him forward. That's an admirable quality to have, especially for someone who, for the longest time, was the perfect embodiment of 'loose' batting.

The fact that Khawaja, unbeaten on 69 at the end of Day 4, will end the Ashes 2023 as the highest run-scorer across both sides is something that needs to be celebrated. Not only because of the assurance that he has provided to Australia as they aim to secure their first-ever Ashes win in England in 22 years but also for the fact that he has altered the course of his career trajectory in a way few would have envisioned four years ago when he was dropped from the side.

England had always been Khawaja's biggest frontier to conquer. Back in 2013, it was in England where his struggle against swing bowling was exposed. So massive was the fall then that only once in six innings could he score a fifty; in fact, that was the only time Khawaja could muster anything above 25 runs. Australia, yearning for the heir to fill the grand void left by Ricky Ponting, found no solace in Khawaja's offering.

Fast forward to 2019 when the Queensland batter returned to England in the whites, a lot had to give in, but his scorecards ended up reading 13, 40, 36, 2, 8, and 23 in the first three Tests. As fate had it, Marnus Labuschagne seized the opportunity and made the role his own in the last two games.

You see, an average of 19.66 would not have cut it to land him another English challenge, but what is cricket without a second third chance? It is how good players chart their redemption tale. 

Fresh from the World Test Championship victory, it was Khawaja's twin knocks of 141 and 65 that landed Australia a 1-0 series lead in Birmingham. It was emotional for him, but the cricketing restraint that he showed to push the Englishmen was visible in his approach. As a matter of fact, the man who was once touted to replace Ponting at #3 scored 46 runs off pull shots alone. Even before England realized what hit them, it had cast its blow.

"When I'm getting sprayed by the crowd as I'm walking out there today and as I'm going to nets being told that I can't score runs in England...I guess it was just a bit more emotional than normal. Every Test match is a bonus for me because we thought my career was over,” Khawaja said after the player of the match performance in Birmingham.

On the penultimate day of the Ashes 2023, with Australia needing a humongous 384 runs to win the Test and thus sealing the series 3-1, Khawaja was at the epicenter of the process.

Sure enough, David Warner doesn't exude the same aura as an opener anymore, so England really had a big chance to make an impact. But Khawaja decided to give back in the most English way possible - he attacked 22.3% of the balls while maintaining a control rate of 93.8%. 

It was once again anti-climactic because Khawaja had a far lower control percentage in the first innings (86.6%) despite attacking only 7.6% of the time. It is imperative that his knock would decide the course of the game on the final day and if, somehow, he can lead them to another 249 runs on the final day, his name will forever be etched in the annals of Australian folklore as a mighty champion.

"I'm just enjoying the game while I can. Enjoying the journey. Wherever I end up by the end of my career, I'll definitely be grateful that I had a career in Australia. That's all that matters for me,” Khawaja had said after Edgbaston, and boy, wasn’t it in the show at The Oval too!

Already 37, you never know how many days he can continue like that, but whenever that day would arrive, an average somewhere in the range of 46.97 would never betray the popularity of one of Australia's very own talismanic batters. Doing it across a series or two is different, but across varied conditions and landscapes, the way Usman Khawaja has charted his path out should be celebrated as an echo chamber of magnificence.

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