All of the talk is about the damage Smith and Warner might do to the English attack, but pour a little sunshine on to the Aussie pitches, mix with a Kookaburra ball, and a certain left-handed No 3 has the ingredients he needs to make the tourists suffer, says Brett McKay.
Usman Khawaja: Gower, Harvey and Mark Waugh rolled into one – in Australia
Death, taxes, and an early-season Usman Khawaja run spree.
Honestly, you can set your watch by it at the start of every Australian summer.
But it happens every year. No-one in this bloody wonderful big, brown land of our quite understands why, but we’ve just accepted that it’s part of the Australian cricket season. We accept it, and we enjoy the proceeds of the inevitable run fest that will come from the start of the Tests.
What am I talking about, I hear you ask?
Well, you see, the Australian No.3, Usman Khawaja, is the absolute epitome of Jekyll and Hyde with two-pound-ten of willow in his hand.
His overall Test record is pretty healthy; 1,700-plus runs from 24 Tests at 45.5 is better than decent, and it’s about the record most Australian cricket fans imagined when Khawaja first burst on the scene. Five centuries and eight fifties, as well. Good player.
But what happens every summer is this: Khawaja comes into the Australian summer with a bit of a question mark over his place in the team. He then proceeds to peel off elegant run after elegant run, slaying Australian state attacks like he’s Mark Waugh, David Gower and Neil Harvey all jammed into one. So good to watch.
He of course is picked in the Test team, and has a great summer. A magnificent summer. Plays a few loose shots here and there, but makes an effortless hundred that has everyone chuckling on the inside that we ever considered slotting someone else in at no.3.
The Australian summer is done, we all start watching our football codes and resume our weekly winter oval-ball obsession, and the cricket team head overseas with our best wishes and promises to watch every ball bowled on tour, knowing full well that only a third of the population even has access to the subscription broadcast medium. For six months of the year, our overseas cricket intake comes via only occasional ninety-second video clips and new bulletins; remember that nugget for later.
Anyway, Khawaja battles for the duration of the tour, his feet suddenly become heavy and nailed to the crease, his hands harden like his gloves have been filled with rapid-set concrete as he walks out to bat. Where once he looked at ease against spin, he now looks clueless. Against spin on the subcontinent, they nearly have to keep the poor bloke out of the spinners’ net, to protect him!
He either loses his spot early on tour, or he should have, and either way, he returns to Australia a broken batsman.
And then football season ends, and the weather gets warmer. Khawaja comes into the Australian summer with a bit of a question mark over his place in the team. He then proceeds to peel off elegant run after elegant run…
Every summer, without fail.
The breakdown of his numbers is staggering. Away from home, that “better than decent” average plummets to 27.2, with just one century and two fifties from twenty digs on foreign soil.
And we’re right to be worried about him heading into the Australian summer, because we watched every ball bowled on tour. Just like we promised.
But here’s where you need to be worried, Guerrillas.
This Ashes series isn’t been played on foreign soil. It’s in Australia. On Australian pitches. With a kookaburra on the ball.
In Australia, Khawaja averages a Smith-like 63.7, with more than twelve hundred runs in 22 innings, four tons and six fifties. On these shores, he’s a proper batsman.
This summer, he’s already made four fifties and two centuries for Queensland. In his last six Sheffield Shield knocks, he’s made 347 runs, including 78* and 52 against the Australian Test bowling attack playing for New South Wales just this week. What question marks!
So don’t say you weren’t warned, England. It’s like you’ve forgotten how we raved about that debut pull shot he played in Sydney seven summers ago.
We know which Usman is walking out to bat, and the superlatives are locked and loaded.
The ever-popular Brett McKay, freelance sportswriter and commentator, will be our man Down Under for this series and you can hear his contributions during the Tests.