When Usman Khawaja debuted for the Australians, the public was full of admiration. With a baby face, conservative nature and a loving mother in the stands, Australia was behind Ricky Ponting’s short term replacement.
But as of now, that’s all he’s turned out to be. A short term replacement.
In the New Years Ashes Test of 2011 Khawaja made his Test debut. With the series already decided and with some quarters designating the series as a disaster, Khawaja was symbol for the future. The match further exemplified what was a shocking series for the Australians, exposing weaknesses in all areas of their side.
Khawaja’s performance was, however, encouraging. With a first innings score of 37 from 95 balls and a second innings of 21 from 73 balls, Khawaja showed promise yet failed to combat David Saker’s swing bowling masterclass in the second innings, akin to the rest of the Australian batting lineup.
As an attendee on Day 4, I’d love to present a first hand account on Khawaja’s second innings but as a then-thirteen year old obsessed with Michael Hussey, my mind was focused elsewhere.
With a Test match batting average of 25.13 from 17 innings one could argue that Khawaja’s test career has been akin to his first match. Promising yet hardly convincing.
Khawaja was last seen in the baggy green during Australia’s Ashes loss to England in 2013. He was called up in the second test and dropped for the fifth after averaging 19.00 from 6 innings.
So what’s next for Usman?
On the day Australia’s recent Ashes and Caribbean squad was announced, Khawaja was named Captain of the Australia A side touring India. Khawaja’s List A highest scores of 166 and 120 in October 2014 and undeniable potential convinced the selectors that he was worthy of a place in the side after suffering a serious knee injury before the 2014 BBL season that ended his Sheffield Shield Season abruptly.
Like every batsman, Khawaja’s most important currency is runs. At 28, he still has plenty of time to cement a spot in the Australian batting spine and spots are still available. The No.3 spot seems to inevitably be Steve Smith’s, Dave Warner will be Australia’s opener for the next 7-8 years but outside of that no spot in the top six of the order is cemented or isn’t associated with retirement.
One could argue that Khawaja could prove the perfect foil for Warner. Khawaja’s patience, determination and composure at the crease would contrast appropriately with Warner’s brash, aggressive nature at the crease. However, to cement a spot in the Australian test side Khawaja will need to address a worrying trend against spin bowling in the test arena.
In his first innings Khawaja was dismissed by Graeme Swann whilst his last Test series saw Swann dismiss him four times and Joe Root once. Therefore, the Australian A tour of Indian should prove significant in the development of Khawaja against spin bowling with his appointment as captain placing further expectation upon his batting performances.
After a promising start to his career there is arguably no player the Australian public would prefer to see back in the Australian side. If Khawaja can dominate the Indian tour and convert these performances on the domestic stage during the 2015/16 season, a recall beckons for the qualified pilot from Islamabad.