Usman Khawaja shines as focus shifts from pitches to players
Ahmedabad: How can one not love Test cricket? Not appreciate that battle between bat and ball when the players, not the pitch, are the protagonists? Especially the little periods of play where a sudden lapse in concentration costs a wicket, breaks a solid stand and allows the opposition to find their way back into the contest.
The post Tea session had everything which keeps Test cricket alive and kicking. The tight lines, the odd loose delivery going to the ropes, application by the batters and in all, plenty of attrition from both teams.
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For Australia it was about sticking to what worked after a couple of early wickets and for India it was more about the waiting game and keeping the flow of runs under check with tight lines, mostly around the fourth and middle-stump. Odd boundaries were hit but nothing to panic about.
For over 40 overs, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja held fort and frustrated India. The pair weren’t batting in the ‘outbatting the opposition mode’ and showcased impeccable application on what was a true sub-continent pitch. A pitch which kept everyone interested throughout the day. You bat well, you score. You bowl well, you get wickets. As simple as that. It is a very uncomplicated surface which required a similar approach and the Aussie pair did the same in that post-Lunch session which saw a great battle.
They added runs at little more than two per over, weren’t the muse to the photographers but ensured the first wicketless session of the series. The way they applied themselves, it could have been trouble for India in the final session but that little lapse in concentration from Smith allowed the hosts to pull things back a bit.
Not a wicket-taking delivery but Smith poked at a Ravindra Jadeja delivery tentatively, probably looking to get a single, and the ball found his inside edge and ricocheted off the pads onto the stumps. The Australian captain couldn’t believe it. For 134 balls, he was in complete control but a loose poke ended his solid innings. The right-hander smashed his bat to the ground before taking the very long staircase back to the pavilion.
The fire after Tea
India, who had taken the same staircase back to the changing room for the Tea break, had spring in their stride now. Early Smith wicket injected fresh energy, which would have been drained under the unforgiving Ahmedabad sun.
Peter Handscomb joined Usman Khawaja in the middle, hit some delightful boundaries but had his off-stump uprooted by a Mohammed Shami ripper. Shami attacked the stumps from the good length spot but Handscomb stayed leg-side, stayed rooted to the crease and, probably expecting the ball to come in, missed the line.
Two quick wickets and the fans were ready to brave the sun again. Most exited the shade and were near the ropes, cheering for the home side.
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Rohit rotated his bowlers well after the Tea break. There were no long spells as he operated with the seam-spin combination for most of the session. It was Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja who started the proceedings and then Mohammed Shami replaced Umesh before Ashwin replaced Jadeja. Even Axar Patel wasn’t ignored as Rohit followed a very proactive approach and didn’t make things predictable for the batters. Unlike the previous three Tests, it wasn’t the surface where things happen, it was the strip where you have to make things happen.
Usman Khawaja, the rock!
The opposition camp was at it from Ball 1. Trying to make things happen, trying to induce a false stroke and tested patience of the batters with extended periods of play where runs didn’t come at a brisk clip. Khawaja was unmoved. He didn’t change the way he batted. Trusted the back-foot play, trusted his defence and was more in the box-approach mode which could look boring at times but is mighty effective.
Agreed there were no demons in the pitch but to bat with so much control against five quality bowlers was no ordinary task. Smith had said before things got underway that if the wicket behaves the way he expects it to, it could well be a Test where more batters would trust their defence. Khawaja clearly did.
496 runs in Pakistan in 3 Tests in 2022.
45.67 average in Sri Lanka in 2 Tests in 2022.
Leading run-scorer for Australia in India in 2023.
The second coming of Usman Khawaja has been beautiful. pic.twitter.com/5vEF40Uijf
— Johns. (@CricCrazyJohns) March 9, 2023
Most of his runs came towards the leg-side and the whip off his hips, something he was perfecting in the nets, was a rewarding shot as he didn’t let a scoring opportunity go whenever the bowlers erred with their lines. After 81 in Delhi and 60 in Indore, there was no way the southpaw was going to miss out in Ahmedabad.
He didn’t and did help Australia keep it even-steven on a very gripping day of Test cricket. No session followed a template and every period of play kept the day alive and kicking. It would start on what looked like a “patta (flat track)” note as Travis Head and Khawaja cruised to 56 in just 14 overs. The back-foot punches and free-flow of runs lasted only till the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Anthony Albanese were in the stands.
It’s an 14th Test century for Usman Khawaja – his first against India! That adds to…
3️⃣ v Pakistan
3️⃣ v England
3️⃣ v New Zealand
2️⃣ v South Africa
1️⃣ v Sri Lanka
1️⃣ v West Indies#INDvAUS pic.twitter.com/C4kENE7cyJ
— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) March 9, 2023
India bowlers were off their mark early on but to be fair it was understandable. They played on raging-turners in the last three games where the pitch was the protagonist and Ahmedabad was the strip in typical sub-continent mould.
The new ball could be another reason as the bowlers went for a fair few with the second new ball when Cameron Green played plenty of shots and raced to 49 off 64 balls. He hit eight boundaries and seemed largely in control of proceedings. This could well be the little cue from the opening day – best time to bat and score is against the harder new ball.
Like the pitch or hate it, there is no way one can’t appreciate the gripping day of Test cricket both teams played out in front of a decent crowd which braved searing heat for most of the day.
Brief scores: Australia 255/4 (Usman Khawaja 104*, Cameron Green 49*, Steve Smith 38; Mohammed Shami 2/65)
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