Usman Khawaja was touched earlier this week by a gift from one of his childhood idols, Adam Gilchrist.
But Khawaja’s admission that attempting to channel the attacking instinct of the iconic wicket-keeper batsman on the opening day of the first NRMA Insurance Test would be reckless proved instrumental in continuing his fairytale return to international cricket from the 36 year old.
Khawaja makes no secret of his dizziness when he meets his heroes, one of whom he met after a game in Perth on Wednesday when he had a lengthy discussion with former West Indies all-rounder Carl Hooper, who provides commentary for the ABC.
It was also palpable as he explained how special it had been to receive a memento from Gilchrist ahead of the summer opener against the Windies.
Gilchrist is why Khawaja wears the number 18 on all of his football shirts – except, oddly enough, for Australia, as it was owned by James Muirhead when he started his international career and has since been taken over by Michael Neser.
Upon hearing the test opener’s preference for the song, Gilchrist presented Khawaja with a signed No. 18 2007 World Cup shirt.
“I loved the way he batted – he was an entertainer,” Khawaja told cricket.com.au. “He went out and hit them all over. As a kid I just idolized him.”
After his unbeaten 154 on the first day, Marnus Labuschagne praised his Queensland captain’s batting rhythm, and Khawaja admits that a green, seamy, poppy Perth Stadium pitch required a very un-Gilchristian approach on opening day.
The pair successfully knocked out the visiting bowlers and crept on at just over two runs per over before Labuschagne and Steve Smith (59no) took advantage of a tiring attack and a surface that accelerated in the final session.
Australia commands top class gloss in Perth
“Neither Marnus nor myself batted like Adam Gilchrist,” said Khawaja, whose 65 marked his eighth fifty-plus score in 14 innings since his Test recall earlier this year. “It wasn’t a wicket where you could.
“They bowled quite well, they didn’t give us much especially in the beginning. It was hard to score, it never felt easy.”
Khawaja has insisted on his preparation for this Test summer, batting at number 4 for the Bulls to face regular openers Joe Burns and Matthew Renshaw, even though opening for the Test side was no problem.
The southpaw seemed the opener by all accounts as the Windies clipped the ball around during the first two sessions, forcing Khawaja to draw on his judgement.
Khawaja continues the hot 2022 with a steady fifty
“It feels like I’ve been hitting the new ball all my career,” he said. “I opened batting in cricket, I opened in all white-ball forms and I’ve hit three throughout my first-class career up to the last few years.
“And if you hit three … I often come in with 1.3 overs or 4.5 overs. You come in early, it’s like opening.
“I’ve been facing the new ball all my career so it doesn’t feel too different.
“If you hit one, two or three, it’s very similar. If you’re in the top order, it’s going to be hard work (against the) new ball, it’s going to seam around.
“You need good technique, you need to be able to leave and pounce well when you get the chance to score points. Davey Warner has been doing that for a long time, any opener that has been successful over a long period of time has those fundamentals.
“In Australia I think the top three is by far the hardest place to hit. If you make runs there you’ve earned it.”
‘He has more energy than anyone else’: Khawaja on Marnus
Khawaja’s blistering form should tip him over the 1,000 run mark in Tests for the 2022 calendar year in the coming weeks, or even days if he gets another bat in this match, as he is now just 47 runs short.
He is essentially in a race with Joe Root (973 runs) to be the batsman of the year as the man at the top of the charts, Jonny Bairstow at 1,061, will not be appearing again due to injury.
“One thing that’s so good about Uz, and one thing I’ve really learned a lot from him, is his pace,” said Labuschagne.
“He has such an even pace throughout his game, while I’m a bit more of a rollercoaster with me at times.
Gabba grounding helped on Perth’s bouncy castle: Labuschagne
“I think that’s why opening suits him so well – he just has such an even pace.
“He scales up, responds to the situation and understands that if Roston (Chase) comes in early, we have to put him under pressure.
“He takes it in, reads the game really well and he’s a great player.
“Especially his last 12 months, but his whole career.
“He’s always been beautiful to look at.”
Men’s NRMA Insurance Test Series v West Indies
November 30 – December 4: First Test, Perth Stadium, 1:20pm AEDT
December 8-12: Second Test, Adelaide Oval, 3pm AEDT (day-night)
Australia Squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner
West Indies Squad: Kraigg Brathwaite (c), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Roston Chase, Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Anderson Phillip, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Devon Thomas
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