A calm southpaw with an Asian mould and an Australian head, Usman Khawaja cashed in on his little India experience – through the IPL and the A tour in 2018 – to dictate terms in the five-match ODI series against Team India.
Prior to this series, Khawaja had 583 runs in 21 ODIs. Till January 2019, he wasn’t even a part of Australia’s limited-overs plans. But he scored 383 runs in these five games to possibly earn a ticket to the World Cup in May.
Khawaja’s homework was visible from the first ODI in Hyderabad, when he danced down the pitch to the tricky chinaman Kuldeep Yadav for a six over long off.
This has been a long process.
Khawaja’s sub-continent preparation had started three years ago when he joined the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL. He would bat against different types of spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin, Murugan Ashwin and compatriot Adam Zampa – at nets to absorb the culture.
Former India cricketer Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who was the assistant coach of the franchise, saw the gifted hands closely. “Khawaja has got hands. He is a touch player with that Asian grit and grace, a combination of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He bats that way as well. He came across as a straightforward person. He wouldn’t complicate his approach by overthinking,” Kanitkar told Sportstar post Australia's 3-2 series-win.
Khawaja made a comeback in the ODI side two years since the 30 against Pakistan in Sydney.
This time, his electric form may cause a selection headache for David Warner is likely to be available for the ICC Cricket World Cup. The one-year Cricket Australia sanction ends this month.
Khawaja stands a little ahead for his present form and confidence as against the negativity that Warner has to fight through to get to the normal cricket routine.
“He used his time in India very well by learning how to play on different pitches. India has different conditions in different cities. For example, the wickets in Chennai are completely different from Delhi. His ability to play spin has definitely turned him into a better batsman. He was also here for an A tour. All those matches must have helped him evolve as a complete batsman.
“Khawaja also has the experience of playing in England [in Derbyshire and Lancashire]. What will hold him in good stead is that he has scored heavily against India in India. He is not used to such conditions. He will be very confident going to the World Cup. The conditions will be different there, but this confidence will matter,” added Kanitkar, who is also the coach of Tamil Nadu.
On Wednesday, he scored his second century of the series. He was dismissed for 100, but he had broken the records of Kane Williamson [most runs in a five-match ODI series against India] and AB De Villiers [most runs in a five-match ODI series against India in India].
As coach Justin Langer said, if Australia continues to do well against Pakistan in Dubai, changing the winning side will be a tough ask for the defending champion in the big ticket event.