It has been quite a summer, across formats, for Usman Khawaja © Getty Images and Cricket Australia
Khawaja’s unbeaten century in Adelaide on Thursday night, to guide the Sydney Thunder into their first Big Bash League final appearance, was the latest standout innings in a summer of many. Since a tour match against a New Zealand XI in Canberra in October his scores across all forms have been 111*, 21, 11, 174, 9*, 121, 109*, 144, 56, 62 and 104*.
Smith spoke glowingly of the way Khawaja was playing, and noted that he had also improved greatly in terms of areas like fielding and running between the wickets, two skills considered even more pivotal in ODIs and Twenty20 matches than Tests. However he pointed to a strong and settled 50-over batting line-up as evidence that Khawaja will be difficult to accommodate, even in his current form.
“He has certainly got the capabilities to be able to play for Australia in those formats,” Smith said. “It’s a very tough side to break into at the moment, we’re playing some very good cricket as it is, we’re up 4-0 in this series. I’m sure if he does get an opportunity he’ll take it with both hands.
“I think he’s continually improving and working on those parts of the game. Fielding’s very important for an Australian team, we hold ourselves to very high standards and he works extremely hard on it, so hopefully he can continue getting better at it, but he’s going okay at the moment.
“I thought he batted beautifully again last night, it was great to see him score another hundred and get another Sydney side into the Big Bash final. If he comes in and gets an opportunity, I’ll see where he’s best suited. I think the order’s pretty settled at the moment, so we’ll wait and see how that all pans out.”
One circumstance that may allow Khawaja to squeeze into the Australian limited-overs batting order is a schedule that does not allow any room for a first-class warm-up fixture before the looming Test series in New Zealand. Cricket Australia have scheduled a Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Western Australia in Lincoln near Christchurch as a way of providing some preparation, however Khawaja’s status as a Queensland cricketer means his best avenue may be to play in the ODIs that precede the Tests.
A fellow Queenslander, the opener Joe Burns, is in a similar predicament, and the team performance manager Pat Howard has suggested there is a possibility of changing the ODI squad with an eye towards the New Zealand Tests. Smith, however, appeared to need further convincing about this concept.
“I’m not sure about that,” Smith said. “NSW and WA are playing a Shield game in New Zealand as well, so everyone’s been playing a lot of cricket, the conditions aren’t too dissimilar to what we get here if the wicket’s got a bit of grass on it, and guys are playing plenty of cricket, so I think we’ll be plenty prepared for that tour.
“As far as I’m concerned I want to win every series we play. It’s another opportunity for guys to play away from home as well. We’ve been playing some very good cricket at home and I want to win another one-day series away. Its about having the best guys on deck to do that.”
Nevertheless, Smith has already made one concession towards future assignments by promoting the allrounder Mitchell Marsh to bat at No. 3 against India at Manuka Oval in order to grant him time in the middle. Other such compromises may yet be required if the likes of Khawaja are to be given their best chance of succeeding in New Zealand, a series that offers Australia the chance of pouching the No. 1 Test ranking.
“It was about giving Mitchell a bat,” Smith said of Marsh. “He hasn’t had much of a bat this summer, we’ve got some big series coming up in New Zealand, so I would’ve liked him to spend some time in the middle. For us going forward it’s just about trying to win games and it’s whatever the best line-up is to win a game.”
Glenn Maxwell is a doubtful starter for Saturday’s final ODI due to knee soreness after he sustained a knock while batting in Canberra, meaning the selectors will have a choice between Scott Boland and Shaun Marsh for the final spot in the hosts’ XI.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo