Jackson Bird, Pat Cummins and Usman Khawaja had a go at Ian Healy’s 67-hit unique record (0:32)
If Usman Khawaja does have a problem against spin bowling – empirical evidence suggests that he does – the Australia No. 3 is doing his best to ensure he does not think about it as he returns to the scene of arguably his finest Test innings.
A stern century against Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada under lights at Adelaide Oval a year ago demonstrated the high level of quality Khawaja possesses, even when challenged by a moving pink ball, quality bowlers and the inconvenience of becoming an impromptu opening batsman when David Warner was indisposed.
However his non-selection for India, return for a single frazzled match in Bangladesh and then a first-up lbw dismissal to Moeen Ali in Brisbane have combined to raise plenty of the old, familiar questions about Khawaja’s ability to adapt to the challenges posed by spin bowlers. Moeen’s deception of Khawaja at the Gabba was a near replay of his exit to Graeme Swann at Durham four years ago, leaving batting technicians the calibre of Ricky Ponting and Chris Rogers to suggest numerous remedies.
Whatever their suggestions, Khawaja is not about to start listening, preferring to keep himself as confident as possible in his ability without resorting to tinkering or overthought. “Sometimes you just get out. It’s cricket, it’s always going to happen,” Khawaja said. “It doesn’t really bother me too much but I have a pretty simple game plan – watch the ball and hit it. I don’t think there’s anything too drastic I have to worry about, it’s one game. Every time I go out there I watch the ball and score runs, I’m going to do exactly the same thing going forward.
“There were two lefties out there and the Gabba was turning a fair bit which was a bit weird for the Gabba, day two. The wicket was still pretty soft and we did the exact same thing to them with Lyno [Nathan Lyon]. It depends on the conditions. In Australia, you’re most likely to get out to, especially in a pink ball game, a lot of the quicks. Spin plays an important role and there’s one good spinner in both sides.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at. I’m really enjoying my cricket this year as I have in the previous years and fortunately scored a lot of runs for Queensland. Coming into this Test series, 1-0 up, it’s all I can really ask for. We’re winning cricket games, I’m happy. Obviously, I would’ve liked to contribute a bit more last game but the innings Smudge [Steven Smith] played was outstanding and then the way we backed that up was excellent. For me that’s what’s so important.”
Something Khawaja has spent a little more time pondering is the place of the pink ball in Test cricket, suggesting a little more than a year ago that day-night Tests should not be considered the same as all-day affairs played with a red ball. “I would suggest we say pink-ball cricket is a different format because that way, players will start to accept it a bit more,” Khawaja said in November 2016. “Now when you mix the formats together it blurs the lines a bit.”
His views, like the ball itself, have evolved in 12 months, to the point that he does not see it necessarily playing into the hands of England’s swing-bowling expert James Anderson. “The pink ball has changed a little over time,” he said. “It’s become a bit more consistent, it’s become closer to a red ball than it was three years ago when it was going around corners, it had a white seam, you couldn’t see a thing. It’s still a little bit different. I think if the conditions are right and it’s swinging, yes, but it’s one of those balls it doesn’t always swing consistently so it’s a bit hard to get a gauge on.
“But it makes for a really great spectacle and you can still score runs if you play well and if you don’t bowl well you’re still going to get hit around. It’s still a pretty even contest. It’s definitely improved. I would never say it’s like the red ball because it’s not exactly like the red ball but it’s definitely improved over the years. That’s all we can do as cricket, trying to improve the pink ball, trying to make it a good spectacle, trying to make it an even contest between bat and ball.
“It’s still fairly new, it’s in its infancy of trying to come out as a spectacle of the game. You can see the crowds around, people can come after work and watch cricket so it’s great for the game. I’m a big supporter of it for that reason and as long as we’re making improvements year after year, that’s all you can ask for.”
As for who will be the most difficult opponent with the pink ball in hand this week, Khawaja looked towards one of his own number – the tall New South Welshman Josh Hazlewood. “Josh is always one who is very dangerous because he can swing it back in and nibble it,” he said. “When he’s on he gives you absolutely nothing. He doesn’t give you anything to hit, he’s one guy who is always in the game.
“I think it does [get quicker at night]. It depends on the conditions too. I’m not sure if it’s the dew or the grass stands up, we’ve only been playing the pink ball for three or four years so it’s still fairly new to everyone. We’ve played night sessions where it’s quickened up. If you don’t bowl well you’ll still get hit for runs because the ball comes on to the bat better. Good cricket will always prevail, if both teams want to win they’ll have to play good cricket.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo