x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Khawaja ready to step up

The free-scoring guitar-playing batsman is in the 12-man squad and could play instead of the injured Ponting.

Usman Khawaja, right, is relishing making his Test debut on Sunday against England, at the expense of Ponting.
Usman Khawaja, right, is relishing making his Test debut on Sunday against England, at the expense of Ponting.

SYDNEY // Usman Khawaja will have some very big boots to fill when he makes his debut for Australia in the fifth Ashes Test on Sunday, but the 24-year-old is more concerned about making the most of his call up to the national side than who he is replacing.

The free-scoring, fast-quipping, guitar-playing left-hander was named in Australia's 12-man squad for the Sydney Test yesterday and is almost certain to be selected in the team, with Ricky Ponting, the captain, ruled out of the line-up.

With more than 12,000 runs Ponting is the second most prolific batsman in Test history behind Sachin Tendulkar, but is being rested to allow a fractured finger to recuperate.

Khawaja is not thinking any further than the five days next week when Australia hope to level the series at 2-2, with the Ashes already lost following England's victory in Melbourne, which gave them the lead for the second time in the series.

"I'm not really here to fill Ricky Ponting's shoes, I'm there to go out and do as well as possible and put my team in the best place possible and that means score runs," he said yesterday.

"Other than that, there's not really much more that I can do than just enjoy my cricket. To replace 12,000 runs, that's a big feat and I still haven't scored any so I'd better go out and score my first one first."

"Ricky's a legendary cricketer and a legend of a bloke ... he is the kind of guy, if he told me to jump off a bridge, I probably would," Khawaja, who is normally an opener, added. "Me taking over Ricky's place? I highly doubt that. I'm just happy to get the opportunity while he's unfortunately injured and hopefully we can get out there and level the series."

Born in Pakistan to a cricket-enthusiast father who subsequently took his family to Australia, Khawaja has been accumulating runs since making his debut for New South Wales two years ago and boasts an impressive first class average of 51.7.

He was called up to the Test squad for the series against Pakistan in England earlier this year, and again when Michael Clarke was an injury worry before the first Test in Brisbane, but did not play when Clarke, proved his fitness for the match in Brisbane.

Khawaja was still always the first name bandied about when replacements were being considered for injured or failing batsmen and has long said he was ready to step up to play Test cricket for his country.

"I guess you need that confidence, I've played first-class cricket for a long time but I guess you're never really gonna know until you go out there and do your thing," he said.

"There's been times when I've thought I wasn't good enough for club cricket, that is the great thing about cricket, everyone experiences highs and lows."

Khawaja said he celebrated his elevation to the squad by playing his guitar and a spell on the Playstation, but added that he had no time to consider the significance of becoming the first Muslim to represent Australia in a Test match.

"That's the first time I've thought about that all day," he said when asked about it.

"It's been a childhood dream for me. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to play for Australia.

"The dream was a long way away when I was younger and it's a lot closer now and I'm just jumping out of my boots and hoping I get the opportunity. That's all I can really think about right now, my mind's in 40 places and I just want to get out there."

With Ponting vacating the number three spot in the batting line-up, Khawaja is likely to come in after the first wicket falls but he said it really did not matter to him where he batted.

"I'd take anywhere in the top 11 to be honest," he said.

* Reuters