A lack of significant ones has been a cause of disappointment for Khawaja
Usman Khawaja was able to celebrate a century at the SCG for the third time in his last three Test innings. Despite having spent the previous two nights at 195 without losing and hoping for the opportunity to score a first double-ton, he was relieved to reach that milestone after a difficult campaign.
Khawaja had consistently played for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield and later against the West Indies, but he had not been able to convert one of his five half-centuries into a more significant contribution.
He nevertheless finished 2022 with more than 1000 Test runs, and at the start of the new year, he had finally cashed in.
“I’ve played some really good cricket this year and haven’t cracked a hundred,”he said.
“Got three 50s in the Shield in consecutive games then got a couple of 50s at the start of the Test tour.
Then a diabolical wicket at the Gabba and we won which was fine, and missed out last game. More of a personal battle when I get to fifty, continuing the process and seeing how long I can continue for. To get that reward was a nice feeling, I feel like I’m doing all the right things.”
Khawaja found it challenging to draw comparisons between this years’ experience and his return hundreds against England because the latter opportunity had come so unexpectedly.
But as he nears the end of his career, he is still in a good place where he is batting calmly and enjoying the atmosphere that captain Pat Cummins and coach Andrew McDonald have built for the Test team.
“Best environment I’ve been in,”
“I haven’t done a warm-up in about seven Test matches. Nothing hurts you more than a warm-up. Think it’s added two more years to my career, 100%. Ron’s been great about that, so has Patty.
It’s those small things that have really helped the environment. I used to find it really intense and it used to take a lot of mental energy, all the, I call it the fluff, the box ticking. Since I’ve been back there really hasn’t been any of that. It has really opened up a lot of space in the mind.”
Khawaja performed another of the dance-move celebrations that he unleashed against England after casting a glance up at the heavens when he reached his hundred.
“Religion is a big part of my life…my family and religion are the two most important things in my life,”
“I keep the religious thing pretty private and do my own thing. The celebrations after it, I always enjoy bringing a bit of colour to Test cricket, both figuratively and literally.”
He is anticipating the upcoming tour of India and feels that he is doing “as well as ever” against spin, but he was hesitant to draw comparisons between the SCG’s conditions, which have been moderated by the rain, and those that Australia would encounter there.
He has many happy memories to pull on, including his triumph in Pakistan last year, the runs he achieved on the 2019 one-day tour when he was Player of the Series, and for Australia A.
“There’s no guarantee in cricket, I could get eight ducks in a row, but I know a process that works for me,”
Regardless of whether Khawaja gets the chance to cross 200 — the odds suggest he will, as Australia looks to extend the follow-on target barring a further rain delay on day four, which is possible.
South Africa will have a difficult task to bat for the better part of two days to win the game, as they have only reached 200 once in their last eight innings. However, they have been asked to learn from Khawaja’s example.
“You can easily go into that mindset of just trying to survive…in comparison to still being in a positive mindset, that doesn’t mean you need to be reckless,”batting coach Justin Sammons said.
“What Khawaja has done so well is to stay in his game plan. He was positive, but scored within his game plan, thinking that will be key for us. We’ve still got this game then two against the West Indies to finish our season and we want to take as much confidence going into that series as we can.”