Super Usman guides Australia to comfortable 255/4 on Day 1
Khawaja looks to the sky after reaching his century // Getty
By Kushan Sarkar
Ahmedabad: Usman Khawaja combined patience with grit to raise his 14th Test hundred that guided Australia to a comfortable 255 for four as a keen contest between bat and ball marked the opening day of the fourth and final match, here on Thursday.
After dominating the batters in the first three matches of the series, the Indian spinners struggled to trouble the Australians with the Motera track, as anticipated, turning out to be a better wicket.
Khawaja, Australia’s best batter on the tour, was determination- personified throughout his six-hour stay as he struck 15 boundaries in his unbeaten 104-run knock.
At stumps the Pakistan-born Khwaja had Cameron Green (49) for company.
As a southpaw, neither does Khawaja have the panache of someone like a David Warner nor the brute power of a Matthew Hayden, who was capable of executing slog sweeps fetching deliveries from wide outside the off-stump.
His game maybe pretty low on aesthetics but is highly impactful as he came across as a batter, who wouldn’t try anything which is outside his comfort zone.
Anything pitched on his legs was punished through the leg-side while the occasional cover drive would come out of the closet, like one off Jadeja in the final session.
Otherwise, it was just playing the ball late and rocking on the back-foot, while whipping Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja through the square-leg or mid-wicket region.
It was only fitting that an on-drive off Mohammed Shami (2/65), brought up what would be one of his most cherished Test hundreds that he celebrated with his now-customary leap in the air.
For someone, who faced racism during his early years, with typical Asian stereotype jibes like “Curry Muncher”, life did make Khawaja mentally tough and he has shone through time and again during his second coming — be it Sydney, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Delhi or now in Ahmedabad.
It did help that there was no devil on the Motera track and with no significant help on offer, India’s spin troika of Ashwin (1/57), Jadeja (1/49) and Axar Patel weren’t as effective compared to first three games.
Save Shami’s lethal reverse swing to get Peter Handscombe castled, none of the other dismissals came off wicket-taking deliveries and could be attributed to lapse of concentration on part of batters.
It was a track where if one even got deceived in the air, the slowness off the surface ensured that playing on backfoot became second line of defence.
Run scoring wasn’t easy but surviving and slowly building an innings wasn’t difficult either as Khawaja showed.
Twice Australia lost back-to-back wickets but prior to that and after that, Khawaja remained a constant factor.
He had partnerships of 61 for the opening stand with Travis Head (32), 79 for the third wicket Steve Smith (38) and another 103 for the fifth wicket with Green, who counter-punched towards the end of the day.
The run-rate of 2.83 would show that scoring wasn’t very easy, save the first hour when Head hit Umesh Yadav for a flurry of boundaries.
There is nothing in the track and Australia, if they apply themselves well, could post their best total of the series.
Head, in fact, must be feeling horrible as he undid all his good work in the first hour by playing an indiscreet shot. He tried to chip Ashwin over mid-on without reaching to the pitch of the delivery.
Ashwin had just altered the length slightly and deceived Head, who offered the easiest of catches to one of the world’s best fielders, Jadeja.
Head got a reprieve while batting on seven when wicketkeeper KS Bharath dropped a regulation catch off Umesh Yadav’s bowling. Yadav, who usually invites criticism for his inconsistency, was once again erratic as he gave a lot of boundary balls.
Out of the seven boundaries that Head got, half a dozen came from Yadav’s overs.
The end from which Shami bowled, a lot of deliveries kept low and one such ball brought about the downfall of Marnus Labuschagne.
It was an off-cutter and Labuschagne wanted to play the square cut but dragged it back onto the stumps. But then Khawaja took over and made sure Australia had their best opening day of the series.
Was told I can’t play spin, so never got opportunity on previous India tours: Khawaja
Ahmedabad: Australia opener Usman Khawaja can’t remember if he “smiled” like he did after completing a very special Test hundred on Indian soil.
It is an accomplishment he hadn’t dreamt of, having carried the drinks on his previous tours of India in 2013 and 2017.
Khawaja, Australia’s best batter on this tour, batted for six hours to grind down a quality attack, scoring an unbeaten 104 out of team’s 255 for four on Thursday.
“I don’t think I have ever smiled so much on getting a century, there was emotion in it. I have done two (Test) tours of India before (2013 and 2017). Carried the drinks for eight Test matches before I got a chance here,” you could feel the pain and joy in his words.
The 36-year-old lost a lot of time when Cricket Australia tried out mediocre openers like Marcus North and Chris Rogers.
“Throughout the middle of my career I got told I couldn’t play spin and that’s why I never got an opportunity to play in India. It’s just nice to go out there and tick off a hundred in India which was something if you asked me five years ago if you told me that I would think you were crazy,” Khawaja doesn’t let you miss the point as to what it meant for him.
“There was a lot of emotion, I just never expected this to happen,” the Islamabad-born, Queensland-raised cricketer, said.
So did he agree with that perception in Australian cricket that he couldn’t play spin”
“Maybe to some extent. But think it was a self-fulfilling prophecy in its own way. People start saying that then perception is reality. Anytime I got out to spin, people were like ‘you can’t play spin’. I probably started believing it myself,” he said.