You can point out various disparities between the two sides to highlight the lop-sided nature of this series. For starters, England have bowled 31 no-balls as compared to only eight by Australia. England have a solitary century thus far in comparison to Australia’s four. As a result, Australia have amassed 400-plus totals twice while England’s highest total is 297. You can sense where this is going.
In another highly significant difference, England are in a predicament about whom to pick. Even if they want to replace someone, they don’t have convincing replacements. Now, they are close to staring at an empty barrel with an evergrowing list of injury concerns.
Australia, on the contrary, face the question of whom to leave out. Be it Travis Head’s hundred at the Gabba, Jhye Richardson’s five-for in Adelaide or Scott Boland’s player-of-the-match performance in Melbourne, everyone coming in has responded well. On Day 2 of the Sydney Test, Usman Khawaja added to the tally with an emotional comeback hundred. On Day 4, he enhanced it, creaming his second hundred of the match.
Before the Test, drafted in at the expense of the unavailable Travis Head, Khawaja said he is aware it is a one-off opportunity, irrespective of what he does. After his high-quality century in the first innings, he still carried the same passive outlook towards the situation. “This series, it was going to be one and moving forward, I was not thinking much,” said the left-hander after his 137 on Day 2.
It is one thing scoring a comeback ton. Joining an elite club that has only five other Australians - Warren Bardsley, Arthur Morris, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Steven Smith - to score twin hundreds in an Ashes Test is completely another. It is what Smith had done in 2019, quashing the doubts if the quality of his batsmanship will remain intact after a gap of one year. Khawaja did not overcome a similar challenge but it will still be remembered alongside Smith’s feat in conversations regarding iconic Test comebacks.
Moreover, it is the contrasting style of the two innings that vouches for a longer run for Khawaja. In the first innings, he structured his innings under cloud cover. He had to grind his way out of a tough phase. It took him 134 balls to reach his first fifty runs.
In the second innings, England were losing steam, if they had any, amidst bright sunshine. Khawaja unleashed the shots he had learned for his success with Sydney Thunder. He slog-swept for six, he reverse-paddled over the in-field for four. It took him 131 balls to reach his hundred, three less than what he required for fifty in the previous innings. Uz, as he is fondly known, exhibited all shades of batting.
Yet, he has come to terms with a longer wait for his next Test cap. "At the moment I'm probably quite resigned to the fact that I will miss out [from the Hobart Test]," Uz said today. "I actually like the process the selectors have been taking. At the moment I'm not expecting to play the next Test but I'll always be ready. Who knows someone else may get Covid or something else happens.”
There is only one other occasion of a batsman not getting picked after scoring twin hundreds in a match. It dates back to 99 years ago when Jack Russell never represented England again after becoming their first batter to notch up twin hundreds.
Meanwhile, Head deserves his spot back at the back of an impactful 152 in the first Test, probably the innings of the series.
This leaves Australia the sole option of dropping Marcus Harris. The left-handed opener has played 14 Tests for Australia, delivering only three fifties. His spot was under scrutiny until he top-scored with 76 at the MCG, the most challenging wicket in the series. Coach Justin Langer talked about the flashes of brilliance in Harris in 2018. The MCG knock was the first time those flashes popped up. He also looked solid in both innings in Sydney, before squandering those starts.
29 years old, Harris is six years younger than Khawaja which works in his favor. However, Australia’s upcoming assignment, a challenging away tour of Pakistan, offers sense to persisting with the 35-year old. He is one of the better players of spin bowling in Australia. His match-saving 141 in Dubai in 2018 comes to mind.
If the change is made, Khawaja will play the Hobart Test as an opener in all likelihood. "You can't really compare five to opening, I know because I've done both," said Khawaja today. "Opening is very tough. All I've done is got an opportunity with Australia, scored some runs and the hunger is still there.” The southpaw will also take confidence from his Test average of 96.8 in seven innings as an opener.
In any case, Khawaja is expected to make the trip to Pakistan as a squad member if not as a certain part of the XI. The fact that he is born in Pakistan adds a sentimental value beyond cricketing reasons which all of us would like to see.
“It would be pretty cool. That is where I was born. I have played in India, played in Bangladesh, played in Sri Lanka. It is amazing that I haven’t played in my country of birth,” Khawaja told after his hundred on Tuesday (January 6).
The problem of plenty is good but sometimes it can put you in a fix. Whatever decision the selectors take, including coach Langer, it will leave someone with a frowned face. Even though it came at the expense of injuries to Richardson and Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland has got the chance to build on his astonishing Test debut. Similarly, the world would like to see Khawaja continue his Test career as well.
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