AUSTRALIA faces a huge task to rebuild dumped batsman Usman Khawaja’s confidence after a plan to give him back-to-back Test matches was sacrificed in the Chittagong dust.
Khawaja has been virtually guaranteed his No.3 spot back for the Ashes, but the riddle of how to unlock his talents overseas is no closer to being solved. There is extreme doubt over whether he can ever play a Test in the subcontinent again after his latest stint in the baggy green lasted just one match.
The 30-year-old was axed for the sixth time in his enigmatic 24-Test career; the third consecutive Asian series in the space of 12 months where he’s failed to convince selectors of his worth.
It’s almost unheard of for a batsman averaging 45 in Test cricket to be so regularly and so ruthlessly stranded in no-man’s land, but after such a devastating loss in Dhaka, Khawaja had made himself a sitting duck with a horror outing in the first Test.
National Selector Trevor Hohns said the call to drop Khawaja to accommodate Hilton Cartwright was a “warranted” horses for courses decision and had no wider-reaching ramifications other than the balance of a spin heavy XI for a tricky series-saving scenario in Chittagong.
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“We have selected a team for this Test based on playing the conditions we are faced with in Chittagong,” said National Selector, Trevor Hohns.
“The inclusion of Cartwright is warranted, he brings solid batting to the side and also gives the captain an extra medium pace option due to Pat Cummins being the only fast bowler in the XI.”
Cartwright has now come from the clouds to be in the box seat to be Australia’s No. 6 for the Ashes.
Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade survived for Chittagong but is on his absolute last chance and needs runs, while Glenn Maxwell is also on the chopping block unless he can fire with a big score.
Unlucky quick Jackson Bird is starting to break world records for most matches as 12th man, having now not played a game in Sri Lanka, India or Bangladesh.
In what has been a forgettable 12 months for Khawaja, his cricket development has gone backwards at a crucial time in his career. Even though he will get three Sheffield Shield matches before England arrive in late November, the challenge of re-establishing himself as an international force is profound.
No longer a fixture in the side, Khawaja must find a way to go to the next level as a cricketer, with Australian coach Darren Lehmann making it clear he wants players for all conditions.
Khawaja felt he was made a “scapegoat” when he lost his place after two Tests in Sri Lanka last year, and he must now digest the brutal fact that his latest Test comeback has lasted just one match.
He has played just one international match since January 22 and has sat on the sidelines for five of Australia’s six matches in Asia this year.
After Steve Smith and David Warner, Khawaja is the standout Australian batsman of the past three years.
The good news is both Lehmann and captain Steve Smith have all-but guaranteed Khawaja that the desperate run he’s encountered overseas will not translate to the start of the Ashes summer.
“There was certainly a feel of (giving Khawaja two Tests). It is important to have a settled group where you possibly can. Obviously the result didn’t go our way so we have to think what we are doing there … but for the Ashes, we are pretty clear on where we are going and who want to play in that scenario in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and all of those wickets,” said Lehmann.
“Most of the guys obviously know the Australian conditions really well.”