Usman Khawaja has a poor record in the Indian subcontinent, but Ricky Ponting called him Australia’s best batsman ‘by a street’ at the moment, and implored the powers that be in Australia to keep their faith in him.
Khawaja has been selected for Australia’s tour of the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan. It is Australia’s first Test assignment since the tour of South Africa earlier this year, which was marred by the ball-tampering controversy that resulted in David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft being banned.
In the absence of the big names, Australia will depend a lot on Khawaja, but while the 31-year-old left-hander averages 59.38 in 18 Tests in Australia, his career average is of 42 from 33 Tests, and that’s due in large measure to his average of 14.62 in five Tests in Asia.
“There’s been lots of different discussions over the last couple of years about Khawaja and how to get the get the best out of him. (People wonder) ‘is he an Australian Test match player only? Do we just not pick him on the subcontinent?’ I just think you’ve got to keep picking him – with Warner and those guys out, he’s clearly our best batsman by a street,” Ponting, the former Australia captain, told cricket.com.au.
“The more he can play in those conditions, the more he’ll start to work it out.”
Ponting pointed out that his own early days were not too different. Indeed, he played the fourth Test of his career in New Delhi in 1996 and managed just 14 and 13. It didn’t take him too long to sort the issue out, though, as he scored 60 in his third Test appearance in India, in 1998, and then scored 76* in his first appearance in Pakistan, in Peshawar in 1998.
“It’s difficult. I was a bit the same; the first few tours I had to India, I struggled. But the more I played, the more I learned about how I was going to survive and how I was going to cope. The last couple of tours I had there were some of the best I ever had,” said Ponting.
“Someone like Uzzie, he’s been in and out, he’s played the start of a series over there and got dropped but then been picked as soon as he’s got back to Australia. I just think he’s had a lot of uncertainty about where he’s at.”
Khawaja was in India recently with the Australia A side. He didn’t bring the house down, but a century – 101* – in a 50-over game against India B and then 127 and 40 in a ‘Test’ against India A were good performances all right.
He was left out of the XI for the second ‘Test’, though, and Ponting says he found that strange: “I was even a bit surprised that they didn’t play him in this last game in India. He was over there in India, he’d done well and then they don’t play him.
“He’s a class player, no doubt about that. The more secure he can probably feel in his own mind, we’ll see him get better and better.”
Australia will play a two-Test series in the UAE – the first game starts October 7 in Dubai, followed by the second one in Abu Dhabi from October 16.