Usman Khawaja attributed his stunning turnaround in batting fortunes on subcontinent surfaces to a renewed conviction in doing things his way, as well as the readiness of Australia’s brain trust to exhibit faith in his techniques.
Usman Khawaja has scored 301 runs at an astounding average of 150.5 from three innings in the first two Tests of the Benaud-Qadir Trophy series against Pakistan.
However, the 35-year-old was not always seen as a safe set of hands when faced with spinning wickets, and in six prior Test tours to Asia (including the UAE), he gained selection in just seven matches and was dropped from the starting XI twice.
Furthermore, the now-prolific left-hander, who has averaged 111 in Tests since returning to the line-up as a COVID-19 replacement for Travis Head in the last Vodafone Ashes series, was deemed surplus to requirements on both trips to India (in 2013 and 2017), when he did not play a Test.
Prior to the first match of Australia’s ongoing tour to Pakistan, Khawaja stated that he had learnt a lot from past campaigns in Sri Lanka (2011 and 2016) and Bangladesh (2017) when he was pulled from the squad mid-series on each occasion amid concerns from some quarters that he was vulnerable to spin.
“I got a lot of advice from a lot of people, trying to be helpful and have the best for me but at the end of the day I had to figure it out for myself,” Khawaja said.
“Whether I succeeded or failed, it had to be on me, the onus. I could do what everybody wanted me to do but if I fail, I fail – it doesn’t really make a difference.
“I guess for me after I failed a couple of times I had to figure out, how do I want to play this game overseas, what do I want to do?
“I’ve been on two tours of India, played eight Test matches and got dropped twice, once under (former coaches) Mickey Arthur and once (under) Darren Lehmann.
“It was a bit of a double-edged sword because 10 years ago people were like, ‘Oh Uzzie, can’t play against spin, can’t do that and at the time I was scoring a truckload of runs (in Australia) but then I go to India and I get dropped,” he said.
Khawaja admitted that an important factor in discovering the secret of batting on subcontinent surfaces for him was the arrival of Justin Langer as a coach, who took over for Lehmann after the 2018 sandpaper fiasco.
Not only did Langer support Khawaja’s success by allowing him to play ‘his way’ in the 2018 Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, but the changes Khawaja had made to his game allowed him to score a game-saving 141 and conclude the two-match campaign with an average of 76.3.
“It’s very hard as a player, I find, to learn that way because you’re not getting the backing of the coaching staff and the selectors,” Usman Khawaja told ‘The Unplayable Podcast’ while talking about the times he was overlooked by the selectors for any tours to the subcontinent.
“It’s very hard to keep on learning and developing and trying things, so I just went back to Australia and worked at it. We had a few A tours away on the subcontinent where I tried to implement those things, I did it successfully but I did it my way.
“And then finally getting the opportunity overseas in Dubai, ‘JL’ (Langer) just kind of backed me and said, ‘I’ve seen you play against spin, I know you’re a very good player of spin and I want you to go out there and play’.
“Having that support at the time was really helpful, and being able to do what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it was important,” he stated.