Uzzie’s big smile pays dividends for Langer
USMAN Khawaja arrived in Dubai with his career at the crossroads.
But all coach Justin Langer was worried about was his megawatt smile.
At first sight the left-handed openers of past and present are personalities of stark contrast, but there is a magic about Langer that might have just unlocked the sleeping giant of Australian cricket.
In the first tour since Steve Smith and David Warner were banned for 12 months, Khawaja’s nine-hour epic hundred against Pakistan is being hailed as one of the greatest in- nings ever Australian.
The emotion poured out of Khawaja after his 141 off 302 ball heroics as he opened up about the pressure of being labelled lazy and incapable in overseas conditions.
It was clear the unrelenting scrutiny on his work ethic and previous failings against spin bowling had taken their toll.
Khawaja has been forced to look over his shoulder for so long, that all Langer did was give him one to lean on.
“People have talked about whether he can play spin bowling. I had never had a single doubt that Usman Khawaja could play spin bowling,” said played by an Langer. “Honestly, the last three months (he’s been saying), ‘what do I need to do for the UAE, JL?’
“Just keep smiling, mate. “I’ve got so much admiration for Uzzie. Look at him. He’s got himself really, really fit (lost 7kg).
“He’s done all the hard work. He’s a beautifully talented player and he’s got an amazing temperament so with that smile and that temperament he brings great leadership to the group.
“What he’s done is a great credit to him, to also overcome the demons.”
The Langer touch with Khawaja has been immediate.
Selectors have never trusted the Pakistan-born star against spin bowling, but after Australia’s crippling 10-60 collapse on day three, Langer had Khawaja teaching to his left-handed teammates out in the middle.
Langer hosted what he called ‘the lefties convention’ but what he was doing was empowering Khawaja.
“It’s always hard for a new coach to come in,” said Khawaja. “I think JL is an extremely good communicator.
“Whenever you talk to him about cricket you know it’s coming from a good place. You can chat to him about the game and you can express your opinions and he won’t take it to heart, and he does the same. It’s obviously only one Test match that’s happened so far but I think he instils a lot of belief in the guys as a team, as a whole.
“He’s been there and done it too obviously so you get a lot of reassurance from that.”
Cricket Australia’s unique process for finding a new pool of captaincy candidates overlooked Khawaja, but the 31year-old has embodied Langer’s mandate of challenging players to be leaders without a title.
“He’s embraced it so well,” said Langer. “He’s a senior player. He’s played the most Tests besides Nathan Lyon.”