Archive for the ‘usman khawaja’ Category

A tale of two debuts

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

It was a stop-start kind of day at the SCG.

For some it never really got going.

For one man, it was the start of what could be a fruitful Test career.

Before I go any further, I must hasten to add that while the plaudits for today’s knock of 37 from NSW Test debutant Usman Khawaja have been flowing steadily since he walked off to a standing ovation, while his mother fought back tears of pride, one would do well to exercise caution when praising this young man who seemed to bat so assuredly.

After all, look how well that’s turned out for Phillip Hughes. New messiahs, while loudly heralded, often have the nasty habit of being found wanting.

However, it’s hard not to get excited about this young man’s talent and brio given the moribund performances of most of his teammates lately. When the first wicket has fallen just before lunch and you are next man in, chances are that the meal you are eating is not going to sit easy.

He came to the crease to the sound of loud applause and the atmosphere around the ground, from England and Australian fans alike, was of immense goodwill towards him. Everyone wanted him to do well today. Maybe not too well, in the case of the England fans, but 100 for “Usie” and Australia all out for less than 300 would have been acceptable.

Khawaja did not get 100; nor did he reach 50. But his first 15 runs came off 8 balls including a glorious pull shot off only the second ball he faced from Chris Tremlett, and shot of the day was a blazing square drive off Tim Bresnan so flamboyant his bat should have had banners flying from it. To say it was a shot of awesome power and beauty scarcely does it justice.

The best thing, though, was when afterwards he said how much he enjoyed being out in the middle. On current form, most of Australia’s batsmen are so busy wondering where the next run is coming from that even the mere concept of gleaning pleasure from their chosen sport must seem a heresy.

Michael Clarke was definitely one who would rather wipe today from the memory banks. Newly anointed as Australia’s 43rd Test captain, 4 runs were all he could manage from an innings interrupted by rain before he edged Tim Bresnan to Jimmy Anderson at gully.

Clarke came to the crease to boos from the sell-out crowd, and left to more of the same.

Two men making their debut in different capacities for their country; one so far with conspicuously more success than the other.

Usman Khawaja on debut at the SCG

Usman Khawaja on debut at the SCG

Sydney preview

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Tom Parker, the curator at the SCG, has predicted that wicket no. 5 will be a spinner’s dream from day three. The ball may do a bit through the air during the first session of day one, but from then on the hard-packed Bulli soil will be a batter’s deck until the cracks start appearing.

This forecast, of course, is predicated on five days of glorious weather with no rain. I write this about hour after a thunderstorm descended upon Sydney, bringing a refreshing coolness and giving some relief to my beleaguered sinuses. More importantly though, there is still dampness in the air, and further showers are predicted tomorrow, with overcast conditions over the next two days.

Perhaps this might just be a good toss to lose.

In any event, it goes without saying that England go into this last Test better prepared for anything the weather may throw at them.

This is the last Test in a series in which the main prize is no longer up for grabs, but England will be striving for domination and a series victory as a further stepping stone on the road to the eventual goal of being Test cricket’s number one.

Australia will similarly be looking to lay stepping stones, but towards the more modest goal of emerging from a series that has seen the stuffing kicked out of them with a win that will give them some heart before they play Sri Lanka in August. Seven months is a long time for wounds to fester.

Australia will have Michael Beer; England have Graeme Swann. Swann has put this succinctly into perspective by saying he still doesn’t understand why NSW homeboy Nathan Hauritz was dumped so ignominiously. He believes Hauritz should have been Australia’s first choice spinner throughout the whole of this series, and he is not the only one.

Usman Khawaja, Australia’s new number three, looked relaxed and cheerful at practice today, and seems to be taking the hullabaloo over his selection as Australia’s first Muslim cricketer in his stride.

The papers recently have been full of articles about him. Khawaja reckons he is singled out for explosives checks at airports, and even at the WACA when playing in a one-dayer against the Warriors he was stopped by three security guards on his way to the dressing room who did not believe he played for NSW.

He laughs all this off and treats the whole thing with an admirable sense of humour; I think mine would probably have run out a long time ago.

He plays Call of Duty on his PS3 and plays his guitar in his spare time. The newspapers seem to be making a big deal out of the fact that he is a normal 24-year old (and why shouldn’t he be?) and at the same time investing him with the responsibility of being a role model and ambassador for Australia’s Islamic community.

I wish it did not have to be this way, where so much attention seems to be on his faith, but there it is. I really wish they would all just let the guy play.

Michael Clarke will be hoping to prove his naysayers – of which there are many – wrong as he becomes his country’s 43rd Test captain. Judging by his form of late, and doubts over his captaincy credentials, “Pup” must find his inner mongrel is he is to win his critics over.

England have an embarrassment of riches to choose from with their stable of quicks, but I expect the side to remain unchanged from Melbourne.

Paul Collingwood is this week’s ant under the batting magnifying glass, and needs runs desperately to avoid being sizzled to a crisp by the ever increasing glare of scrutiny. Few come tougher than him, though, and scrappers like Collingwood never stay down for long.

This Test will be an interesting one, imbued with importance, especially for Australia.

The urn is gone, but it is now their long-term future that is important.

Usman Khawaja and teammates in their Baggy Pinks at the SCG today

Usman Khawaja and teammates in their Baggy Pinks at the SCG today