“With David Warner all set to return for the World Cup, Khawaja might have to move one spot down and bat at 3. However, the left-handed Queensland batsman has the ability to bat at that spot and has done that in the past”
Life is funny, isn’t it? It hardly goes how you expect or predict it to. And it’s true more often than not, especially if you are a sportsperson. Life can turnaround in a matter of a few days, be it for the better or worse. At the moment, no one other than Usman Khawaja will understand this better.
From Australia’s premier Test batsman to Australia’s premier ODI batsman, from 310 runs (11 innings) throughout the Test summer to 383 runs (five innings) in a series, it’s been quite a turnaround for Usman Khawaja in the last six months.
He started the Australian summer as the premier Test batsman after his heroics in Dubai in October last year. He batted for close to nine hours as he struck a fine 141, helping Australia salvage an unlikely draw against Pakistan. Many tipped him to outscore Virat Kohli in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, as life goes, Khawaja could muster just 310 runs in 11 innings. Over 30% of those runs came in one innings – his last innings of the summer when he got that hundred against a hapless Sri Lankan attack.
However, as his red-ball form dipped, his white-ball form picked up. He scored more runs than he scored in the entire Test summer in this series. He didn’t have an ODI ton until three days back and now has two!
Before this year, Australia tried to pack their team with some power-hitters and it backfired. They turned to Usman Khawaja whose form in the longest format wasn’t the greatest. Also, the Pakistan-born hadn’t played an ODI in the last two years. The last time he donned the Australia colours in a limited-overs game was back in January 2017.
Australia had one of the worst ODI years ever in the history of the game. Hence, Khawaja didn’t have much to lose. But in fact, as it turned out, he was Australia’s third best batsman of the series. He scored 114 runs at an average of 38.00 and got starts in every game but just couldn’t kick on and make a big score.
On the back of this decent performance, he was picked for the India tour and by the time, this has come to an end, Khawaja has become Australia’s premier ODI batsman. He had excellent returns as he returned to open the batting. In fact, he finished with most runs by a batsman against India in a five-match series. The 32-year-old left-handed batsman amassed 383 runs at an average of 76.60 which included two hundreds and two fifties. Scores of 50, 38, 104, 91 and 100 have helped him stamp his class. He became the third batsman to register four 50+ scores in a series in a five-match series in India.
The way Khawaja batted in this series was exceptional and the consistency he attained was remarkable. He’s never had the best of times in Asia as he averaged just 28.26 across formats despite that majestic 141 against Pakistan before this series. However, he’s adapted really well.
He got a fifty in the first game before he wasted a start in the second. But ever since the third game, he’s looked unstoppable. In the span of six days, he’s got a couple of hundreds and a 90 as Australia turned the series around from 0-2 down. He was one of the players responsible for Australia’s turnaround. Khawaja was simply outstanding. In fact, he outscored one of the best batsmen in limited-overs cricket (Virat Kohli) in this series.
His approach in every game was top notch. The classy left-hander has had a gameplan against every Indian bowler and the best part has been the way he’s handled the spinners. He has played all three – Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal (even though he played just one game). He played the pacers equally well. He pulled and cut with authority while his drives were very elegant. He took the game on in the powerplay when it was necessary and remained patient at other times.
With skipper Aaron Finch in some really bad form, the onus was more or less on Khawaja to give the side a good start and that’s what he did in this series. Invariably, he held one end up and kept the scoreboard ticking from his end. He struck his maiden ODI ton in the third game as he set-up the platform for Australia’s score of 313. A couple of nights later when Australia were in trouble chasing a mammoth 359, Khawaja scored a very good 91. He once again laid the platform for Australia’s innings, this time in a run chase.
However, if there’s one criticism of Khawaja one has to make, it has to be the way he’s thrown his wicket away. Apart from the fourth ODI when Australia chased down 359, they’ve lost their way once Khawaja was dismissed. In the first game, Khawaja was out when the score was 97 and the Aussies managed just 236. In the second game, the score was 83 when he was dismissed and Australia once again lost a few wickets in the middle before recovering in the end and getting close to India’s 250.
In the third ODI when Khawaja scored 104, the score was 239 (39th over) when he was out but the team ended up at 313 (74 runs in the last 70 deliveries). The pattern followed once again in the final ODI. Khawaja scored exactly 100 but was dismissed when the score was 175. Australia lost their way and managed just 97 runs in the last 17 overs.
However, it would be a little harsh to blame him for the collapses. He had done his job and it was the turn of his other teammates to carry the momentum built.
Nonetheless, this series would surely help Khawaja and Australia with the World Cup a couple of months down the line. He won the player of the series for his terrific batting performances and the 32-year-old has ensured that the defending champions simply have to pick him not only in that World Cup squad but also the playing XI.
He is their leading run-getter in ODI cricket this year (497 runs at 62.12). They next travel to UAE where Khawaja has made fond memories in the recent past. He will want to continue this good run.
With David Warner all set to return for the World Cup, Khawaja might have to move one spot down and bat at 3. However, the left-handed Queensland batsman has the ability to bat at that spot and has done that in the past.