Usman Khawaja’s stunning comeback to red-ball cricket

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Usman Khawaja has made a terrific comeback to the Test cricket after a long wait

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Usman Khawaja’s stunning comeback to red-ball cricket

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Nishad Bapat

04/04/2022

Australia opener Usman Khawaja has scripted a fairytale return to the Australian Test team ever since the Sydney Test in Ashes 2021/22. Khawaja made a comeback to Test cricket after playing his last red-ball fixture in Ashes 2019 and has amassed 751 runs from five matches at 125.16 so far.

Usman Khawaja was born in Pakistan but he moved to Australia along with his family at a very young age. Very few people would give up a career as a qualified pilot to go with their passion. However, Khawaja was such a rarity and he chose cricket as his profession. The left-hander learned the tricks of the game at Randwick Petersham, a club on the outskirts of New South Wales. His talent and potential was evident from his start in domestic cricket. He made his first-class debut for New South Wales against Victoria in 2008 and he shined on his debut. Khawaja scored 85 while batting with tail-enders and displayed a maturity way beyond his age. A rock-solid defense and good footwork have been key elements in his career so far. 

His List A debut was not so successful as he scored just nine runs against South Australia. Also, Khawaja’s gameplay is more favored to Test cricket as compared to the limited-overs format. The left-hander finished his debut domestic season at an average of 42.61. Also, he scored three centuries in the Sheffield Shield tournament in the start of 2009-10 season. 

His big break for the national team finally came in the Sydney Ashes Test in 2011. He also became the first Muslim cricketer to play for the Australian national team. Ever since he made his debut in international cricket, he has enjoyed a kind of start-stop journey. He was sometimes out of the team due to a minor injury and sometimes due to a dip in form.  Khawaja scored 37 and 21 on Test debut against England in 2011 and showed impressive poise in a series where the team was struggling. From 2011 to 2013, he played nine Tests scoring 377 runs at just 25.13 without any century. He was dropped from the squad as a result of this disappointing performance. 

He earned another recall to the Test squad in 2015 after the retirement of Michel Clarke and Chris Rogers. From 2015 to 2019, he played 35 Tests scoring 2510 runs scoring at 44.82 with eight centuries and performed better in this phase of his career. The improvement in his game was evident from the stats but the batter was unfortunate to be on the sidelines for the next couple of years. His third phase began this year only when he has made a stunning comeback to Test cricket with a marvelous performance. 

Khawaja hasn’t been able to replicate his success in red-ball cricket in limited-over formats. He has 5226 runs in List-A with an average of 46.24. However, the average drops to 42 in ODIs with 1554 runs. He also proved himself a good T20 cricketer in Big Bash League with 1818 runs at 34.30 and two centuries in the tournament. However, T20Is haven’t been his mould and he has amassed 241 runs in nine T20Is at just 26.77 and a strike rate of 132.41. 

The third and likely final phase of his Test career has been glorious to say the least. The left-hander has been unleashing his class and talent on almost every pitch marking his return to the red-ball setup. Khawaja made a comeback in the Sydney Test of the Ashes 2021/22 and is working tirelessly to score runs in the longest format of the game. Ever since he played against England in his comeback fixture, he has plundered 751 runs from five matches at an unbelievable average of 125.16. That also includes five centuries which is terrific. 

He registered scores of 137 and 101* in his comeback matchmaking a strong contention for the opening slot. His comeback century gave a selection headache for the selectors but he was preferred with his form and the rock-solid defense he possessed. Aged 35, he also showed that he still has the potential to give his best at the highest level. The next match was disappointing for him with scores of 6 and 11 but the next series against Pakistan was his best version. 

He scored 496 runs in five innings at 165.33 in the series and was also adjudged as ‘Player of the Series’. His knock of 104 in Lahore helped the team seal the series in their favor. He is usually considered to be struggling on subcontinent pitches but has an effective record in Pakistan with this series. 

Khawaja has managed to play just 49 Tests since his debut in 2011. He hasn’t been able to establish himself as a key player of the team in any format but this is the golden chance for Khawaja. Plenty of skill, patience, and composure have helped him establish himself as a batter of high class but now the left-hander needs to add a factor of longevity to his career.  He can optimize his current form and can cement his place in the Test squad as an opener.  A batting unit including in-form Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Marnus Labuschgane and Steve Smith will be lethal for any bowling attack in the world.  

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