Against all odds, Khawaja attains batting nirvana

Dubai , October 11 2018 by Gaurav Joshi

When Usman Khawaja was a child growing up playing club cricket in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, his father would take an old VHS camcorder along to the ground and record his son bat. One has to wonder how many of the VHS tapes it would have taken to record Khawaja's marathon nine-hour knock that helped Australia salvage a draw from an unlikely position.

Before the India series last year Steve Smith had made a prudent point about needing to fight and to do everything to salvage a draw when the game was dead and buried. Khawaja might not have featured in that series, but he had taken all the advice on board and executed the theory to perfection.

On the third evening, the first Test match was all but buried from an Australian angle. They needed herculean innings and Khawaja delivered it. The talented left-hander had arrived in the United Arab Emirates averaging 14.62 in Asia from his previous nine innings. He had managed to occupy the crease for 295 balls in the nine outings, batted for an accumulation of six hours and only hit eleven boundaries. When he was finally dismissed for 141, he had batted for eight hours and 44 minutes, hit 11 fours, faced 302 balls and registered Australia's highest Test score in the fourth innings in Asia in its proud 141-year history. Importantly, he had ensured Australia had salvaged a draw from the most unlikely scenarios.

Dubbed a walking wicket on the slow, low, dusty surfaces of Asia, Khawaja's produced arguably the best innings of his 34 Test career. Last year, he was keen to prove to his doubters, he had found a method after a grueling two-week camp ahead of the Test series in India, but as destiny would have it, he never got an opportunity. And that left him agitated.

But Khawaja knew a time would come where he could prove his doubters wrong. By the time he walked out to bat on the fourth afternoon, Australia had to survive 140 overs. He had to contend with Yasir Shah out of the rough, an off-spinner that had taken six wickets in the first innings, a reverse swinging ball and the extreme heat of Dubai. Fair to say the odds were against him.

However, Khawaja found a way to absorb the pressure and reside on a wearing pitch for two days. His methods weren't textbook, he reverse swept 22 times, he advanced to fast bowlers and defended predominantly off the front foot. In between, there was the lofted shot, a cover drive, and a late cut. He found a way to keep the scorecard ticking along and never faced a spinner for more than seven deliveries in succession.

At the end of the day, he spoke about the importance of staying in the presence and not over-complicating his game.

"I was just batting like it was any other innings. I wasn't worried about whether it was the fourth innings or whether we were trying to save a match at any stage.

"It was more of a mindset thing to make sure we stayed positive.

"I knew that if I went away from batting normally, I was more likely to get out in those conditions. Especially being a left-hander, with Yasir Shah bowling into the rough, and Bilal had some rough, too, I knew I had to bat as I would in any situation." Khawaja told reporters.

Batsmen speak about being in the zone and this was Khawaja's batting nirvana. It had come in conditions that had caused him nightmares in the past and had David Warner and Steve Smith been available, he could well not have boarded the plane to the UAE. But this innings was not about him proving the detractors wrong it was all about scoring a ton for Australia.

"It was mostly about getting a hundred for Australia on the last day of a match, trying to save a game. A lot of work goes into playing cricket at the highest level. I work as hard as anyone. I have worked my backside off for the past 10 years in first-class cricket, day in, day out.

"People think, because of my relaxed nature, that's not that case, and that I've been gifted to be able to get to where I am, but that's not the case at all. There is no secret to success, it is all about hard work. I was grateful to be out there playing for Australia and getting a hundred."

For now, however, the time has moved on and Khawaja's father won't need to revert to old tapes to watch highlights of his son phenomenal knock.

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