Having enjoyed fair degree of success in past couple of years, Australia opener Usman Khawaja termed facing the Ravichandran Ashwin-led Indian spin attack as the “hardest challenge” of the four match series beginning in Nagpur on February 9.
The Pakistan-born batter, who arrived in India after his teammates due to a visa delay, will open the batting alongside David Warner.
Khawaja has played limited overs cricket in India but will finally get his opportunity in the longest format after being part of the Test squad in 2013 and 2017.
Recently named Australia’s ‘Test Cricketer of the Year’, the southpaw is expected to play a big role in his team’s quest to win its first series in India since 2004-05.
“There’s definitely a different feel. There are no guarantees in this game, but at least there’s a bit more maturity particularly in the batting, and more maturity in the bowling.
“We’ve learnt a lot over the last 10 years, particularly the types of wickets we can get and how we think we can perform and go out and win Test matches out here. It feels like we are in a better spot than before, but it’s always going to be tough,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia opted out of playing a warm-up game ahead of the Test series and instead chose to simulate spin friend conditions near Bengaluru upon their arrival last week.
It clearly sees Ashwin as the biggest threat from the opposition, so much so that they got hold of his ‘duplicate’ as part of their preparation for the high-profile contest.
A team full of left-handers, Australia are working overtime to tackle the Ashwin threat.
“Ashwin is a gun. He is very skilful, he is got a lot of tricky little variations, he uses the crease quite well too. If you asked me the same question when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer a lot of things because I didn’t really learn about how to face what off-spinners are doing,” said Khawaja.
“But it’s one of those really good challenges. The wicket’s going to turn here at some point, whether day one, day three or day four, and he is going to be in the game and bowl a lot of overs.
“So it’s all about figuring out how I’m going to play against him, how I’m going to score runs against him, what he might do. If you bat a long time against him, he’s going to change his game plans against you.
“He’s not the kind of guy who’ll do the same thing over and over, he’s going to try to work you out.” The visitors are expecting turning pitches in all four games, making the trio of Ashwin, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja more lethal with the new ball.
“If it’s a good wicket, the new ball is probably the easiest time to bat. But as soon as the wicket deteriorates in India and you’ve got spinners bowling with a new ball, that’s probably the hardest time to bat anywhere.
“When we train, the new ball on spinning wickets is always the hardest time. People assume opening the batting is the best time to bat in the subcontinent, it is when it’s flat, but it’s not when it’s spinning when there’s so much variation with that new ball. Once it softens up it gets easier to predict what it’s going to do,” added Khawaja.
He also narrated his travails in reaching India.
“It was what it was – I just wanted to get over there to be honest. There’s a good Sydney flight straight from Sydney to Bangalore and I missed that unfortunately, which sucked.
“It was long, I had to go down to Melbourne and then from Melbourne I got delayed going three hours from Sydney to Melbourne, so it took me five or six hours to get there.
“Then I got delayed again from Melbourne to Delhi by four hours again, so just delays after delays after delays. Still a little bit groggy from the flight. Oh well, I’m here now,” he added.