Usman Khawaja and Australia are desperate for time in the middle before the India series.
Usman Khawaja and Australia are desperate for time in the middle before the India series.

Khawaja presents integrity test for CA

USMAN Khawaja's bid to run the fitness gauntlet and answer the batting crisis SOS shapes as an acid test for Australia's commitment to restoring integrity to the Sheffield Shield.

Australia's desperation to get Khawaja back for the first Test against India on December 6 was only intensified by yet another top order shambles in the opening ODI loss to South Africa in Perth.

The even more audacious background push is the Australian Cricketers Association's submission to have the 12-month bans handed down to superstars Steve Smith and David Warner immediately quashed.

It's understood Cricket Australia's board will discuss the submission at a meeting in the first half of this week where the process will also start for finding a new Chairman.

Khawaja has revealed he's back running two weeks post-surgery on a meniscus tear in his left knee and Australian officials remain confident they can get their best and most important batsman back for one of the most high-pressured series in memory against an Indian side high on confidence.

Australia must find a way to get a hit for Khawaja before any Test comeback is rubber-stamped and the ideal option would be a Queensland Shield match against Victoria at the Gabba starting on November 27.

Usman Khawaja hopes to be available for the first Test against India.
Usman Khawaja hopes to be available for the first Test against India.

But that option has been put under the microscope by a recommendation in the cultural review, which in the words of former Test great Andrew Symonds, called on Cricket Australia to stop "playing God" with the Shield competition by pulling players in and out on a whim.

Clearly if Khawaja is fit to play a full Shield game he would, but if there are concerns about locking him into a full four-day fixture so soon after surgery, Australian officials have indicated they will not tamper with the first-class competition as they have in the past by inserting him for only one innings.

Khawaja may be forced to play a Futures League fixture for Queensland on November 26 or a club game where CA medical staff could have control over the 31-year-old's workload without upsetting the enormous cultural upheaval the game is trying to enforce under new CEO Kevin Roberts.

The other more left-field option on the table for Khawaja's fitness Test might be a CA XI tour match against the Indians.

Ex-greats like Symonds and Shane Watson argue that messing with the integrity of the Shield as a professional competition over the past decade has been at the core of Australian cricket's cultural rot.

Usman Khawaja celebrates his match-saving century in Dubai. Picture: Getty
Usman Khawaja celebrates his match-saving century in Dubai. Picture: Getty

Khawaja posted a video on Instagram of him having his first run on "the Alter G" treadmill, as he put pressure down on 70 per cent of his bodyweight at 10km/h.

The Test star, fresh from the innings of his life in the UAE, reported that he "felt good".

Meanwhile, Cricket Australia's board will meet this week and could make a formal decision once and for all on whether they would consider a change in the punishments given to Smith and Warner over the ball-tampering scandal.

It seems close to unthinkable that CA would lift the international suspensions of the banned duo to allow them to play for Australia this summer, but the interesting dilemma will be whether they relax the sanctions to allow them to play some form of domestic cricket before their 12 months is up.

It's understood, Smith, Warner and Bancroft have tried to block out the noise created by the ACA's public push, eager not to get their hopes up, as CA board member Mark Taylor warned against the dangers of the players' association impacting on the trio's mental health with the approach they've taken.

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