India vs Australia: Usman Khawaja, ticking all the boxes

The left-hander was once again at his crafty best at the Feroz Shah Kotla as he struck his second century of the series.

Usman Khawaja celebrates after reaching his half-century against India during the final ODI.   -  R.V. Moorthy

Before this year began, Usman Khawaja had had an indifferent run in a stop-start career in One-Day International (ODI) cricket.

He had four half-centuries in 18 matches, the last of which was in January, 2017. Known for his patience at the crease and for his aesthetically pleasing strokeplay, he has for long been recognised as having the potential of piling on the runs in the longer format.

Despite bans to Steve Smith and David Warner, the left-hander was not an automatic choice for the ODI team in 2018.

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But the team’s lack of success in the last two years – it hasn’t won a series since January, 2017 – prompted wholesale changes to be made in the squad, and in came the determined Khawaja, fresh for a new stint in the format after having worked on his fitness in the previous few months.

And it’s been a fairytale ride for him since. Since January, 2019, he has struck two centuries and three half-centuries in eight innings, all against India, averaging 62.12.

He has felt at home against India as well, comfortable against spinners and fast bowlers alike as he kept churning out runs.

After his century – 100 (106b, 10X4, 2X6) - at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Tuesday, he has become the highest run-getter ever in an ODI series against India, with 383 runs.

That he has become fitter and lighter than before has perhaps helped him. For he has batted enterprisingly in the series, unafraid to use the feet against the spinners and to bring out his sweeps and reverse-sweeps.

Combining it with his willingness to wait for the ball and not jab at it, and patience, he has been able to master the slow and low tracks in India.

The only thing he has not done is manufacture quickfire blitzes. But he has more specialised teammates to do that role. As on other occasions in the series, he used the flick to good effect here, using his wrists well to turn deliveries to leg for boundaries off seamers.

He took a particular liking to left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, hitting two sixes off him by coming down the track and lofting the deliveries down the ground.

He pulled when the deliveries were short, and drove when the opportunities arose. Both of his drives he played for boundaries in his innings were exquisitely timed – one off Mohammed Shami early on, and later, off Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

He brought out his reverse-sweep, too, against Jadeja in the 25th over, perhaps the only unorthodox stroke in his serene innings.

His batting is more finesse than power, and it’s all come together for him in India as he has hit upon a workable template to deal with these conditions and excel in this format. The statistics tell a tale – this year, he has hit more boundaries than his entire tally in the rest of his career in ODIs.