“Although Khawaja couldn’t stay at the crease till the end of the match, he had already shown Paine the way to carry their team all the way through by that time. The 31-year old has now exorcised his Asian demons. Now, the other Australian batsmen need to take inspiration from him”
Usman Khawaja came into the Dubai Test against Pakistan with the aforementioned statistics which summed up his struggles in dealing with Asian conditions. In fact, all of his 9 innings accumulated up to just six hours and 295 balls of stay at the crease with only 11 boundaries to his name.
However, as he walked back to the pavilion, to a standing ovation, after being dismissed for a marathon innings of 141 runs, he had already batted for eight hours and 44 minutes and faced 302 deliveries. These numbers were higher than what he had to his name in all of his nine innings in Asia previously.
Not only that, he had hit a total of 11 fours which was again equal to the exact number of boundaries he had in Asia prior to this Test match. Moreover, his match-saving knock of 141 made him Australia’s highest Test scorer in Asia in the fourth innings and the only Australian batsman since 2011 to have scores of more than 50 runs in both innings of a Test in Asia.
But the importance of the innings lay more in the result of the match than in its statistical significance, for it helped Australia to salvage a draw from the jaws of defeat. He watched from one end as they lost three wickets in a space of two overs after an opening stand of 87 runs with Aaron Finch.
It seemed like his pep talk in their mid-Test visualization exercise, arranged by coach Justin Langer, after their first innings collapse from 142/0 to 202 all out—in which Khawaja had played a wonderful hand of 85 runs in an opening stand of 142 runs with Finch as well—had gone in vain. The Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, had departed in quick succession with ducks to their name after Finch was dismissed just one run shy of a fifty.
Disappointment could be seen all over on Khawaja’s face. He needed someone to stick with him. Someone who could match what he was doing at the crease. Someone who could be completely aligned in the dedication and will he was showing out there to make a comeback into the match. And he was relieved when he found that in the debutant Travis Head. Head had been dismissed for a nought in the first innings but he came back well and fought hard to score 71 runs in the second. And he credited Khawaja for his success the second time around.
“We just spoke with Uz (Khawaja) who played beautifully, and it was a lot about realizing the work we’ve done over the last month, backing our plans and backing the way we’ve been playing because we’ve been playing and training extremely well,” said Travis Head about what Khawaja said in that mid-Test visualization exercise while speaking to the reporters at the end of Day 3.
“It was just go out there and stay nice and relaxed, have a look at the wicket and talk through a few ideas and a few strategies that Usman employed,” he added.
Khawaja’s innings was similar to all the great innings under pressure, as we have seen over the years, in terms of will-power, temperament and commitment. But his approach was a bit different. It might not be a knock composed of perfect Test match shots, for he reverse-swept for than 20 times, came down the track to spinners more often than not, chased the wide deliveries outside off to play the late cuts off pacers. But he had developed his own methodology which was effective and working more than nicely for him.
“I was batting like it was any other innings. I wasn’t worried about whether it was the fourth innings or whether we were trying to save a match at any stage,” he said after the match ended in a draw.
“It was more of a mindset thing to make sure we stayed positive. I knew that if I went away from batting normally, I was more likely to get out in those conditions. Especially being a left-hander, with Yasir Shah bowling into the rough, and Bilal had some rough, too, I knew I had to bat as I would in any situation,” he added.
The confidence with which he was batting could be seen in Head and in Tim Paine later on in the innings. Head and Paine had partnerships of 132 runs that lasted for 48.3 and 36.2 overs each respectively. And they completely dominated the match for those periods. Even though Pakistan could sense that they were just a couple of wickets away from winning the match, Khawaja, Head and Paine ensured that the match ended in a draw.
Although Khawaja couldn’t stay at the crease till the end of the match, he had already shown Paine the way to carry their team all the way through by that time. The 31-year old has now exorcised his Asian demons. Now, the other Australian batsmen need to take inspiration from him.