Published on December 1st, 2017 | by Sarah Waris0
Usman Khawaja and his love affair with the spinning deliveries
It is an unwritten truth that human beings all over are constantly striving for perfection, unable to realise that even the immortal Gods were unsuccessful in reaching the zenith. Traits of deception or of violence; of a strong-willed yearning for power or of lust overcame even the most extraordinary and their hopes to counter their failings often ended without desirable results.
Let us all face it. We are going to fall short on occasions. We cannot really ever attain the pole position where we are totally away from flaws. But rather than succumbing to the adversary, we must admit our failure and improve upon them. Instead of ensuring that our mistakes are repeated, the constant struggle to overcome them must go on.
Trapped in this world of constant errors lies Australian batsman Osman Khawaja whose romance against spin-bowling remains a topic of much discussion all over the cricketing realm; with his pulses ebbing and flowing every time a spin bowler gets ready in his run-up. As he proceeds towards him, the batsman enters a hallowed trance, wherein he remains dazed and trapped. Lost and confounded. In this love story with the spinning deliveries, Khawaja always remains the compromising and dedicated lover- bowing down and meekly surrendering before walking away.
Yes, it remains a strange love affair. Ironical, if one would rather say. Belonging to a country where it is a cricketer’s birthright to be a good player of spin, the Pakistani-born Khawaja faces his biggest nemesis against just that. His subtle wrist work and his wrist positions would do any sub-continent player proud, but it is his footwork that falters against the slow pitched ball. He is a player of fancy shots against the pacers- against whom he should have normally found tough to get going to but his records against the tweakers remain abysmal and disappointing.
In 43 innings and in 39 dismissals, the Australian number three has been removed by spinners on 17 occasions. He has fallen to Graeme Swann five times and Dilruwan Perera three times. Even part-time spinners look forward to bowling to Khawaja, anticipating an increase in their wicket tally after the mini-encounter. Kane Williamson has dismissed him, and so has JP Duminy. Joe Root, who just has 15 wickets in 61 Tests, has picked up Khawaja. Even chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi, who just has two wickets in his Test career has trapped him at the Adelaide Oval last year. He averages just 32.82 against the spin bowlers, which is in stark contrast to the average of 52.05 against the faster ones.
It is one thing to have a weak spot but it is quite another to be a victim of that weakness over and over again and to be exploited for that without being shown any signs of reformation.
And that is exactly what happened with Khawaja in the first match of the Ashes at the Gabba, a pitch which is historically known to assist the seamers but which rather surprisingly, had its fair share of spin to offer. At 7/1, Australia desperately needed a steady partnership for the second wicket after England had notched up a competitive score of 328. With England fast bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad breathing venom, it had seemed an engaging battle between the pair and the batting duo of David Warner and Khawaja. The latter would have hoped to carry on with his impressive Sheffield Shield form, in which he had scored 347 runs in three games and thus begin the long summer with an impressive score. To other players, the sight of Anderson and Broad first up would have remained a fearful sight but to Khawaja it instilled confidence. He gritted his way to 11 in 22 deliveries and just as he was getting the hang of the bowling momentum, in came a plot twist.
The astute English captain Root handed Moeen Ali the ball in just the eight over of the innings. It remained a move that astounded many but Root was well aware of the psychological impact that it would be having on Khawaja. As Warner easily picked up Ali, Khawaja on the non-striker’s end was an iffy figure. The first ball that Khawaja faced off him was tucked away. In the second, he fell for a straight delivery, playing it for spin and was back in the pavilion in no time- his reputation of being below par against spin encircling him even tighter.
Whilst Khawaja remains a crucial member of the side at home, averaging almost 61.1 Down Under, the same cannot be said when he is touring, his average dipping to 27.1 in the other nations. It pummels to a lowly 14.62 in the sub-continent, a fact that has hardly gone unnoticed in the Australian cricket set-up. It was for this reason that despite averaging 47.06 in 2016, Khawaja was dropped from the Australian side to India. After his trip to Sri Lanka last year, where he managed a high score of 26 in seven innings, he was hardly even considered for the Test matches in Bangladesh, eventually being given a game reluctantly.
However, it is not to say that his calibre is in question. It is just his inability to spot his technical flaws that cause his decline. Before a ball is bowled, Khawaja likes to move forward and across the line of the ball and then moves into the ball, once it has pitched. This causes him to miss the straighter deliveries, which is what occurred against Ali.
He is also often spotted with his head positioned outside the line of the ball which gives him the wrong impression of the line of the delivery. As his eyes remain outside off, he gets the line of the ball totally wrong and the result is a chaotic scene in the middle as Khawaja tries desperately to spot the correct line, only to falter.
But where the 30-year-old can take comfort is from the fact that even players like Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer started off their careers having visible deficiencies against the spinning ball. Ricky Ponting’s tale of misery in the 2001 tour to India is well scripted for being a series in which Punter averaged just 3.4 and for being dismissed by Harbhajan Singh on all five occasions.
Lacks and shortcomings will never cease to exist but in the journey to stardom, they will have to be fixed and with Glenn Maxwell with a double hundred in the Sheffield Shield waiting in the wings, Khawaja’s attempts to sort out his woes quickly need to enter fifth gear.