Usman Khawaja‘s long-running battle to improve his methods against spin bowling may well reach a crucible on the Australia A tour of India in August and September, where he will be the most experienced member of a touring party chosen with an eye on the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE that follows.
Struggles against spin bowling have caused the national selectors to drop Khawaja in the recent past, most notably when he was not picked for any of the four Tests in India in 2017 and then dropped again after one match in Bangladesh where he was twice dismissed cheaply. In between times, Khawaja has been an outstanding No. 3 batsman for Australia on home soil.
While other Test batting candidates such as Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns are believed to have been left out of the Australia A squad because the selectors did not think they needed to learn anymore about them in Asian conditions, Khawaja’s inclusion strongly suggests the panel – now featuring the new coach Justin Langer – are seeking signs of progress and improvement before they commit to playing him against Pakistan.
“We’re really pleased with the squads we have assembled for this tour,” the selection chairman Trevor Hohns said. “We’ve got a couple of really experienced international cricketers, a large group who have had a taste of playing for Australia already, and some emerging players who have performed strongly and we believe have the potential to one day play for their country.
“It’s an extremely important tour, as we look for players who can adapt and find ways to excel in sub-continent conditions. With Australia’s series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates fast approaching, it’s a chance for some players to push for selection for that series, and for all players to gain experience in subcontinent conditions.”
Another notable choice for the tour is that of the indigenous fast bowler Brendan Doggett, who has turned plenty of heads with his sheer pace and wicket-taking capacity for Queensland. Given the current injuries to Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, the selectors are eager to broaden their stable of super fast bowlers, with Doggett and Billy Stanlake the leading names. Another Bull, Marnus Labuschagne, has gained his first representative call-up after strong recent displays in the domestic limited-overs competition.
“Marnus and Brendan both came through the National Performance Squad program last year, and performed strongly for Queensland last summer,” Hohns said. “Brendan is an exciting fast bowler with genuine pace, who has impressed with his wicket-taking ability in the Sheffield Shield. Marnus has put together some really good performances with the bat over the past 12 months, particularly at one-day level.”
Given the bans being served by Steven Smith and David Warner, the next generation of leaders in Australian cricket is also starting to emerge. South Australia’s captain Travis Head leads the limited overs squad, while Western Australia’s skipper Mitchell Marsh is in charge of the long-form team. The wicketkeeper and former Greater Western Sydney football club captain Alex Carey serves as deputy in both formats.
“We’re looking for leaders for future Australian teams, and Travis, Mitch and Alex are all very impressive young men,” Hohns said. “Travis and Mitch both have captaincy experience at state level, and this is an exciting opportunity for them to lead a new group of players in different conditions. Alex, as our Twenty20 vice-captain in the UK and Zimbabwe, is also someone we rate very highly as a leader, and this is another opportunity for him to develop those skills.”