Khawaja’s gi­ant leap helped ad­dress Aus­tralia’s weak link

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Htsportsmax - IAN CHAP­PELL

Even at full strength, Aus­tralian bat­ting in re­cent years has shown pal­pa­ble signs of weak­ness when the ball ei­ther swings or spins.

Pak­istan at­tacked a se­verely weak­ened Aus­tralian line-up util­is­ing both forms of kryp­tonite, un­veil­ing swing with the old ball and finger spin to dis­man­tle their first in­nings. Against this twin as­sault, Tim Paine’s ty­ros were pow­er­less to halt Pak­istan’s progress but at least in the sec­ond in­nings they dis­played thought­ful­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion along with res­o­lute de­fence to clinch a draw.

The leader of their re­sis­tance was the pre­vi­ously leaden-footed Us­man Khawaja. The el­e­gant left-han­der dis­played the ben­e­fit of a well-planned re-think of his ap­proach to fac­ing spin bowl­ing and an el­e­va­tion to the top of the or­der. The most pro­duc­tive bat­ting of the Test came against the new ball where the open­ing part­ner­ships pros­pered.

SPIN WOES

In fact, there was a pe­riod in Aus­tralia’s first in­nings where they could have an­swered with a re­join­der “what weak­ness against spin?” as they cruised to 142 without loss. How­ever, at that point the Aus­tralian bat­ting suf­fered an­other all-too-fa­mil­iar col­lapse, los­ing 10 wick­ets for 60 runs.

This col­lapse was pre­cip­i­tated by the off-spin of debu­tant Bi­lal Asif, a taller ver­sion of the Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran form of finger-spin, in­volv­ing a lot of wrist­work.

Asif’s de­cep­tive flight and bounce bam­boo­zled the Aus­tralian left-han­ders and opened the wick­ets at an av­er­age of nine. That in­cluded 19 wick­ets (9 and 10) on a specif­i­cally pre­pared Old Traf­ford dust bowl.

When I played my one game for Lan­cashire at Old Traf­ford in 1963, I asked the hu­mor­ous and re­fresh­ingly hon­est grounds­man Bert Flack about that pitch; “Oooh ‘twere a bluddy bad un,” he replied with a chuckle. “Them’s at ‘ead­quar­ters (Lord’s I as­sumed) told me t’ pre­pare a bleedin’ turner,” he con­tin­ued with a grin, “and a bleedin’ turner ’t were.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, mod­ern Aus­tralian teams are of­ten greeted with “bleedin’ turner’s” but mi­nus the hu­mor­ous ad­mis­sion from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. The pitch in Dubai how­ever could only be clas­si­fied as a mild turner; it was far from a spit­ting co­bra and ap­peared to hi­ber­nate on the last day.

KHAWAJA’S RE­SILIENCE The Aus­tralians pro­duced a more stu­dious ap­proach in their sec­ond in­nings and fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple set by Khawaja, they un­rav­elled the mys­tery of Asif and fought out a con­fi­dence in­duc­ing draw.

Khawaja was a man on a mis­sion as he set out to prove that his pre­vi­ously poor record in these type of con­di­tions was a thing of the past. With a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach that re­sulted in sharper foot­work and prof­it­ing from an im­proved fit­ness regime, he dis­played skill, de­ter­mi­na­tion and ex­tra­or­di­nary stamina in de­mand­ing con­di­tions.

Fol­low­ing the sus­pen­sion of the two most pro­fi­cient bats­men in Steve Smith and David Warner, Aus­tralia badly needed Khawaja to dis­play progress. He took a gi­ant leap to help fill the void and deny a con­ser­va­tive Pak­istan what seemed to be a cer­tain vic­tory af­ter an­other calami­tous first in­nings col­lapse.

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