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Usman Khawaja shines yet again - this time the brightest

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Last updated on 01 Mar 2023 | 12:55 PM
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Usman Khawaja shines yet again - this time the brightest

In 10 Tests since the 2018 series against Pakistan, the Queenslander has 1015 runs in Asian conditions at an average of 72.50

Usman Khawaja has an enviable home record. In 31 Tests, he averages 55.46 in Australia and maintains a kind of equanimity that is needed when pacers are firing on all cylinders. That’s not an easy job to do, but if you are perceived as a home specialist that is a dent you have to erase.

Khawaja’s career has run more on perceptions than reality. It's staggering that a solid opener like Khawaja, a sub-continent-origin at that, was always seen as a surplus to the requirement and was never taken on a tour of India. Partly because of his underperformance in three consecutive Asian tours - two of Sri Lanka in 2011 and 2016 and then in a tour of Bangladesh in 2016, and mostly, because of the presence of a left-hander in David Warner at the top of the order. 

However, the rigidity that Khawaja has shown since then in overcoming the challenges to become one of their most consistent batters has come as a reminder of why always looking at a limited set of data is a dangerous proposition.

While Sri Lanka and Bangladesh test your defense and your sweeping ability all at once, batting in India is more mental. It requires having a clear head and a sustainable approach to minimizing risks. India win at home because they thrive on this aspect. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja don’t let you sit tight. 

Khawaja has shown great temperament to succeed in these conditions because he trusted his defense. One might wander back to the 2018 A-tour of India. In Bengaluru, while Mohammed Siraj was gunning down one batter after another - eventually ending up with eight wickets in one innings - the Aussie opener made an impactful 127 of his own. 

It was when his resurgence against spin started - right from the series against Pakistan in Dubai, Khawaja took on the tweakers like a boss. In 10 matches since then, the Queenslander has 1015 runs in Asian conditions at an average of 72.50 and craved a niche of his own, which has been on show in both the Delhi and Indore Tests. 

Surely, the Holkar wicket had more demons than usual and would be considered below average. But there was a certain pattern to the Indian dismissals that would be considered flabbergasting. The likes of Jadeja and Shryeas Iyer were aware of the nature of the wicket by the time they came out to bat but showed no sense of game awareness. But then emerged, Khawaja to give India a sense of what they had really missed out on.

Unlike the Delhi Test, in which Aussie batters employed sweeps and reverse sweeps with alacrity, in Indore, Khawaja was determined to take the ball and decide the course of the shot. Neither did he panic, nor did he unnecessarily sweep. With Ashwin going for a defensive bowling strategy, Khawaja found scoring runs on the leg side easy, ending up with a virtuoso performance. So perfect was his placements today that he had played 75 balls on the leg side, and 71 balls on the off-side, collecting 26 and 34 runs respectively. A remarkable facet of his batting indeed.

“I executed my plans, tried to score when I saw a scoring opportunity, and respected the good ball,” Khawaja said in a conversation with Star Sports. “It is not an easy wicket out there. It is hard to say if the pitch changed, it was spinning in the morning and spinning in the afternoon, it is a spin-friendly wicket. We will know more tomorrow but I don't expect it to get any better. 

“I sweep on length most times, the line sometimes when the offspinner goes down the leg and I used the sweep more intermittently. I did the same thing last week too and it is good to have in your arsenal. The plan hasn't changed but it has been dictated by the pitch and how the bowlers are bowling at you.”

Australia have had a torrid series so far. From every conceivable angle, this is Australia’s first day of some sort of domination. While they could thank their spinners for having a ball out there (quite literally), the oomph from Khawaja’s batting provided them enough incentive to look forward to having a better finish. 

After all, it is not always you hold a 47-run lead against India in India, with six wickets in hand. And if they could finish in their favour, knowing India have lost only two games at home in the last 11 year, it would be an impeccable feat made possible by a collective dream. The onus is on others to deliver.

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