Usman Khawaja is under pressure to keep his spot. AAP Images
Usman Khawaja is under pressure to keep his spot. AAP Images DAVE HUNT

Reduced to Ashes? Khawaja in selection fight

Three months after he produced the innings of his life, Usman Khawaja could be fighting to secure his place in the Australian Test team.

The provocative addition of Marcus Stoinis to the squad to face Sri Lanka in Canberra has opened up the possibility - albeit slight - that a change could be made to the top six for the final Test.

Australian coach Justin Langer admits it's highly unlikely selectors will change the XI that demolished Sri Lanka in Brisbane - giving a strong endorsement of Khawaja's credentials - however fears over a deathly flat Canberra pitch has ensured there can be guarantees.

Whether it's this week or the first Test of the Ashes in six months' time, Khawaja is a man under pressure.

 

It was hoped he would stand up as the best batsman in the side in the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith, but despite scoring the only Australian Test hundred since they were banned, Khawaja might yet be forced to make way for them when they return for the Ashes.

When Australian batting is arguably at an all-time low, it's difficult to justify dropping a player who averages 41.62 and has made seven Test centuries.

But this summer Khawaja averages just 26 and selectors are worried about his lack of improvement at a time when they're trying to foster the development of Travis Head, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne and Kurtis Patterson.

 

Khawaja is bowled for the third time by Perera. Picture: AAP
Khawaja is bowled for the third time by Perera. Picture: AAP

 

Langer has strongly indicated he will back in the same top six for Canberra this week. But when Warner and Smith come back the game of musical chairs will begin.

"I'd be surprised if we changed the XI. It's always nice to go with the same XI back-to-back and without putting any words in the other selectors' mouths at the moment, it would be nice to keep some continuity," said Langer.

"The other variable of course is the Canberra wicket. We've got no idea what that's going to play like. There's never been a Test match there before. They had a Shield game there before Christmas so we've got a bit of an idea, but until we get there, it's hard to say.

"Hopefully we keep the same XI.

"Usman still averages 40 in Test cricket. He's our most experienced player. He's very calm. He brings a lot of calmness and composure and experience to the group, so we're happy with the way he's going at the moment."

Stoinis has made an excellent start to his career as a one-day international, and for that reason Australia believe he is a big stage performer, but despite the strong endorsement he has received from Shane Warne his first-class numbers don't necessarily scream out for Test selection.

Dropping a batsman for young gun Will Pucovski might have serious merit, but it will be harder to justify Stoinis' promotion unless the conditions in Canberra are extreme.

An upbeat Langer believes he has unearthed three long-term Test prospects in Head, Labuschagne and Patterson.

"They played it well. They both (Head and Labuschagne) left the ball pretty well. I think Heady hit one loose shot and (he realised his error) … then let the ball come to him and he looked like a really good Test player," said Langer.

"That's the good thing about experience. You've got to go through some tough times to learn it.

 

Steve Smith and Dave Warner’s return could force a Khawaja rethink. Picture: AAP
Steve Smith and Dave Warner’s return could force a Khawaja rethink. Picture: AAP

 

"The thing that's most impressive about Travis is how he keeps learning, keeps getting better.

"Marnus plays spin so well. He plays almost like an Indian batsman, he gets back, uses his feet, and uses his hands into gaps, uses the sweep shot well, gets down the wicket.

"He looked a really good player in Sydney and it's great to see him making runs here. "Sometimes you pick people on how they go about their business and then you back yourself that they're going to have a good career."

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News Corp Australia


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