Former Lancashire batsman Usman Khawaja hasn’t played a Test for Australia since the last Ashes series. His top innings score from three matches in England over the summer of 2019 was 40.
Out cheaply for single figures at both Lord’s and Headingley in subsequent games, he didn’t contribute much as the tourists retained the famous urn. That series in England resulted in an inconclusive draw, but The Ashes taking place Down Under is a whole different ball game.
Khawaja, who turns 35 during the forthcoming 2021-22 Ashes, has given a much better account of himself in previous series on home soil. Half-centuries at Adelaide and Perth before a magnificent 171 at the Sydney Cricket Ground when the sides last met in Australia in 2017-18 are evidence of that.
A decade has now passed since Pakistan-born Khawaja made his Test debut in that famous arena against England. In the 10 years since his bow, he has been in and out of the side for various reasons.
Closing in on 2,900 Test runs from 44 caps, Khawaja’s batting average is the respectable side of 40 for someone playing at the top of the order. In his absence, Australia have been contesting a topsy turvy series at home to India.
The results so far have been a mixed bag. Devastating bowling from the pace attack of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood helped Australia win the opener, but India responded by taking the famous Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Economical bowling from the visitors helped them to level the series. Australia’s response to the low scores recorded by Joe Burns was dropping him in favour of the recalled David Warner. Like Khawaja, he struggled in the last Ashes series but fared much better when facing England at home.
Australia are also looking at uncapped youngster Will Pucovski, who may now get his chance after recovering from concussion. The fact that the selectors have turned to someone yet to be blooded in Test cricket rather than recall Khawaja must hurt.
There is still the best part of a year before the next Ashes series for him to regain his place in the Australia XI, though. While blending youth and experience is important for any side, the selectors will want to maintain a strong recent home record in Test matches against England.
According to the latest odds for those planning on betting on cricket with 888sport, the hosts are firm 1/2 favourites to win the 2021-22 Ashes series. Given England’s struggles Down Under, this isn’t that all surprising even though it appears as if places at the top of the Australian order are up for grabs.
A proven performer on home soil like Khawaja may count for a lot. Australia will be keen to avoid over-relying on star batsman Steve Smith, and do have other big hitters including all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne.
Just because tried and tested names are familiar foes to England doesn’t mean the tourists will be capable of outfoxing them on tour. As fantastic bowlers as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have been, Australian pitches have seldom been kind to them down the years.
If given one more chance, Khawaja could well still have plenty to offer Australia in the short-term of the next 12 months at least.