Khawaja’s red-letter day underlines his popularity

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06 Jan 2022 | 12:09 PM
authorShubh Aggarwal

Khawaja’s red-letter day underlines his popularity

He may or may not play the next Test but Usman Khawaja has forged one of the most memorable days of his brief career representing Australia

Usman Khawaja is a nice guy. How do we know it? For starters, everyone wanted him to succeed on this once in a blue moon opportunity when his name was announced in the XI for the Sydney Test on the eve of the game. 

“The support I have received from around Australia, on my social media pages, old cricketers texting me, cricketers I have grown up with,” said Khawaja in an interview during one of the rain delays on Day 1. 

Waiting for a chance back in the side for the past 29 months, Khawaja would not have wanted it to come this way. Travis Head, who was preferred for the number five slot ahead of the Ashes, returned a positive Covid test ahead of this match. Yes, this is the only reason Khawaja got this opportunity. 

In the ongoing Sheffield Shield season, Khawaja has done everything you can ask of him. With 460 runs, he is the second-highest scorer of the season as yet, only 7 behind the summit. He has scored two hundreds and averages 57.9. Head has been exquisite as well - 394 runs, two hundreds, average 49.3. Khawaja leads Queensland and Head is the captain of South Australia.

Right before the first Test, the two state captains were up against each other. Head scored 8 and 101. Khawaja contributed with 4 and 52*. The latter refuses to consider this as an audition for a spot in the XI. “It's not even on my mind right now. Heady deserves it as much as I do,” he said. 

He is benched for the first Test. The only deal breaker between them is their age. At 28, Head has a lot more future value. Khawaja turned 35 during the course of the second Test. This surely is a bummer since age is not in your hands.

Head scored a century, a rather significant one, taking Australia out of a rut and also creating some records on the way. You will think Khawaja has no chance. You might think he would be distraught. On the second day of the Adelaide Test, he was seen entertaining the crowd with a beaming smile on his face. It is clear that despite not playing for a long time, everybody loves him.

Even though if it is at the expense of a Covid positive result, it was a well-deserved opportunity for Khawaja. He is also aware this might be only one game. 

“I am blessed. For me I have played cricket for so long now, it is just one game. I wanna go out there and do the best I can to put Australia in the position of a win,” said Khawaja yesterday. 

But one-off chances are tricky. You can hurt your future prospects more than what you can earn. It is further tricky batting at number five in a batting line-up like that of Australia. Both David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne can tee off together. In such cases, even Steve Smith is left with not much to do. 

****

The long-due opportunity tested Khawaja on multiple fronts. It was a combination of nerves, various rain interruptions demanding him to reset the innings and the top three batters squandering their starts. And yes, it was not the usual batting paradise at the SCG. The rising delivery from James Anderson said it quite clearly. Khawaja adorned his innings with restraint and patience. The pacers did not offer him much room. 

Khawaja took 134 balls for his first fifty runs. There was a lot of running involved. Reaching the triple figures in 201 balls, there were only 11 boundaries. The top three, scoring 30, 38 and 28 had 14 boundaries in between them for those unfulfilled scores. 

Everyone was probably anticipating a ton from Steve Smith. He had stated before the Test that it has been a long time since he has hit that mark. While he fell against the second new ball, Khawaja carried on. If anything, he looked more fluent against the second cherry, batting at a strike-rate of 67.4 as compared to 36.2 before it. Much like Head did in Brisbane, Khawaja forged crucial partnerships with the latter half of the batting order - 43 for the sixth wicket with Alex Carey, 46 for the seventh wicket with Pat Cummins and 67 for the eighth wicket with Mitchell Starc. By the moment he was out for 137, Australia were in the strong position to declare.

Facing Leach on 28, Khawaja played for turn that wasn't there. Joe Root was lazy to react in time to the ricochet opportunity off Jos Buttler’s left leg. It was the only blemish in an otherwise flawless knock based on silky drives. It did cost England loads. 

****

Cummins, the skipper found a single off the last ball of the 110th over. With only one over left before tea and Khawaja on 99, his hundred was all that the SCG crowd could think about. Hence, the single did not sit well. The crowd showed their disapproval for the single with mellowed boos. You can deduce Khawaja's popularity when the Australian skipper, generally the apple of the eyes of the home fans, face that treatment.

Khawaja didn’t stretch the wait. The moment he nudged Leach into the on-side for his ninth Test ton, the crowd was up on its feet to applaud one of their favorite kids. For the 35-year old, it was a moment to cherish. Maybe as special as the warm applause when he scored his first Test run at the same venue, against the same opposition, in 2011. 

"The roar that went up, the chanting of Uzzie, stuff you sort of dream of but never expect it to happen,” said Khawaja after the day’s play. He celebrated it with a bit of a tribute to his LeBron James in his steps. “I was excited, so pumped. Got taken away by the moment, I've had so much support, the crowd has been excellent.”

What made the moment more beautiful was the presence of his family in the stands. This is Khawaja’s first Test and thereby, his first Test ton in the presence of his toddling daughter. 

Last but not the least, the hundred underlines another contrast between the two sides in this series. Both comeback men, Travis Head and Usman Khawaja have scored hundreds for Australia. Meanwhile, England have none.

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Australia vs EnglandEngland tour of Australia, 2021/22AustraliaEnglandUsman KhawajaTravis Head

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